Passing the Audition
Tips and tricks for mastering and recording in Adobe Audition
By Jon Rose
Electronic Musician, September 2003
When Adobe Systems recently purchased Syntrillium Software's
technology assets, a new era began to unfold for Cool Edit Pro. By the time
you read this, the name likely will have already changed: Syntrillium's Cool
Edit Pro has become Adobe Audition.
Changes in Adobe's release of the software under its new moniker
are primarily cosmetic. The direction that Adobe plans to go with Audition is
not yet clear; for now, though, the software remains a standalone audio application,
and its basic functioning has not changed. Because it would be impossible to
explore all of Audition's features in a single article, this Master Class will
focus on using the program for recording and mixing music. Audition is relatively
simple to use and intuitive enough for novice users, but there's far more to
it than immediately meets the eye. (Take a look at the sidebar “Audition
Overview” if you are not already familiar with the program.)
Seasoned recordists can readily adapt and apply their knowledge
to Audition. For the less experienced, a little logical thinking on your part
can determine a workable session layout for the Multitrack view (the Edit view
is designed for destructive stereo editing). Shortcut keys for the various functions
are real time-savers, so use them! Press Alt + K to change or add keyboard shortcuts.
Fully displaying all toolbars can save lots of time (right-click in the Toolbar
area for options). The button icons for the toolbars are fairly descriptive,
and hovering the mouse over them can remind you of designated shortcuts.
Live recording in stereo
FIG. 1: Using the Merge function, which converts
sets of cues into ranges, and the Batch function, which allows file saving,
you can create a series of individual files from a list of cues in the
Even if you're recording a stereo pair of microphones (or a
mixer feed), you should still use the Multitrack view for live recording. The
Edit view limits your recording time to however long it takes your chosen resolution
to reach 4 GB, and that could spell disaster in a live situation. In the Multitrack
view, audio is automatically divided among multiple temporary files, so hard-disk
space is the only limiter. After you stop recording, drop in cue markers (F8)
between songs or at other logical points. (If you “baby-sit” the
computer during the show, drop in your cues on the fly.) Then drop a cue at
the beginning and at the end, and press Alt + 8 to open the Cue List. Highlight
all of the cues and choose the Merge function, which converts them to ranges
(see Fig. 1). Using the Batch function (its dialog box is self-explanatory),
save your selections as separate files, and you have a viable work-around for
size limitations on audio files.
Set Audition's temporary directories for your fastest, largest
drives (press F4 and then find the System tab). If you have only one drive available
for recording, don't even define a secondary temp directory. Many people misinterpret
the term reserve value — that is the disk space the program won't
use, so don't set it to some huge value and expect to record for long periods!
Live recording using multiple channels
Assuming you have a multi-I/O audio card in your computer (or
two or three, as I do), you can feed your computer lots of channels. Be certain,
though, your system is optimized in advance. Test your disk-bus throughput.
Will it simultaneously support as many channels as you want it to? Don't
wait until the gig to find out!
Lay out sessions that make sense to you. Define conventions
and stick to them, particularly if you're going live for the first time. You
can easily reorder your tracks by right-clicking and dragging the Track Properties
areas up or down in the Multitrack view, but that can waste session time and
cause missed takes. Now, some might safely ignore this advice and be just fine
without it. But since recording and mixing is how many of us feed ourselves…
Time is money. Clients get impatient and testy, even when they
aren't paying for setup and downtime, and shows are a one-chance proposition.
Create several different session templates for different types and sizes of
projects and keep them handy. Lay out a generalized session and save it as the
default session in the File menu. Choose the sampling rate and bit depth that
you'll use to record, though — this information is saved with Audition's
sessions. Whatever sampling rate you choose, use the highest bit depth that
your audio card allows and mix using 32-bit, floating-point files for little
or no degradation to the audio.
Zipping up and down through the mix with a modern, scroll-wheel-equipped
pointing device is effortless; but wasting time trying to find a particular
track isn't. Practice getting around in your new session layouts, and do that
before the gig, too.
In the studio
Always spend adequate time obtaining good cue mixes for your talent. If they
don't have an adequate cue, they can't give their best performance. Seasoned
musicians and speakers might be able to work with almost anything (not that
they'll like it), but most people like a wet (affected) cue mix to get into
a comfortable sonic space, especially when wearing cans (headphones aren't exactly
a natural way to listen!). Take the time to get this right — if you've
worked on the performer's side of the mic, you already understand the value
FIG. 2: Effects are added to tracks by using the
Effects Rack in the Multitrack view. QuickVerb, in the Delay category
(shown here), uses less CPU power than other reverbs and still sounds
External cue mixing almost always necessitates a multiple I/O
audio card, a mixer, and outboard gear, but if you don't have multiple I/O,
you can work out some parts of your cue mixes directly in Audition. For a decent-sounding
reverb that won't overtax your CPU, open an Effects Rack, expand the Delay Effects
list, highlight and add the QuickVerb to the Rack, and press Apply (see Fig.
2). Adjust the reverb's parameters, lock the effect (to take the load off
your CPU), and you're ready to roll.
Too many people discount the usability of the track EQ. Highlight
a track and press Alt + 5. These 3-band parametric track equalizers are fast
and easy to use and are valuable in final mixing, too.
To use a dynamically unruly track in a cue mix, insert a compressor/limiter
from the Dynamics Processor into that channel's Effects Rack and adjust as necessary.
Some players don't even realize it, but inconsistent drum hits are very distracting
and disorienting, even if they're precisely in time.
You don't have to make the tracks perfect while you're overdubbing;
just get them under control quickly (with reasonable dynamics) and into a usable
space for your clients. Using the Effects Rack, Mixer window, and the Track
Properties areas, you can quickly massage a cue mix into shape. Pan, EQ, and
time-delay effects are all nondestructive effects that you can remove, tweak,
or change later during final mixing. Use whatever you need to move the session
along so that creativity isn't compromised, and save the fine-tuning for later.
Also, think about whether that unruly track will be usable later, and try to
be objective as you work.
In native applications, everything runs on a single microprocessor,
so budgeting your system resources is paramount. If you're adding lots of effects
to your cue mixes to make your talent happy (hey, it's their money, right?),
be sure that they're locked. Locking effects averts potential recording dropouts
by temporarily rendering effects to Audition's temporary files, thus taking
a load off your CPU.
FIG. 3: Right-clicking on the green Background
Mix bar brings up its context-sensitive menu.
Your system will perform differently if you change your Background
Mix priority settings (see Fig. 3). Those settings determine the amount
of time Audition devotes to premixing tracks for playback and how far ahead
it works. Right-click on the Background Mix bar to quickly make changes. Depending
upon the complexity of your project, you might need Audition to mix farther
ahead or with higher (or lower) priority.
The relationships between a project's complexities, track effects,
and mix priorities, and your system's speed and resources are critical. If that
sounds nightmarish, don't let it scare you off. There's no single setup that
works in every situation, and this fine-tuning process is akin to setting your
audio card's record and playback buffers. To get the right settings, you'll
have to experiment, especially if you are pushing things hard. From the View
menu, enable the Load Meter, which provides a quick visual reference of CPU
Turn off virus scanners, TSRs (terminate-and-stay-resident programs),
unneeded system services, Microsoft Messenger Service, and any other unnecessary
background applications. Install current drivers for all your devices, especially
your video card, or you'll suffer a serious performance hit. (Audio and video
applications are resource hungry.) Optimize your system!
Despite the hype surrounding digital audio, not every problem
can be repaired, removed, or overcome. Some things, such as overload distortion,
can never be fixed. There are tools that might help with the little things,
but those “little” things can constitute some of the most annoying
and obstinate problems you'll ever encounter and are sometimes the most difficult
Let's say, for example, that your tracking is complete, the
talent has left the building, and you spot a simple (albeit common) problem:
a nasty click. Audition has some highly adjustable restoration tools that can
be used creatively to a mixer's advantage.
FIG. 4: Clicks and pops can often be eliminated
using the Fill Single Click option in the Click/Pop Eliminator effect.
Fig. 4a (top left) shows the area of the click; Fig. 4b (bottom left)
is a zommed-in close-up. Fig. 4c (top right) shows the click in the Spectral
view, making it very obvious (note the bright vertical area); and Fig.
4d (bottom right) shows the result of using the Click/Pop Eliminator.
In Edit view, isolate the area where you hear the click as best
you can. Zoom in and refine the selected region until you can still hear the
click while looping the zoomed selection. Zoom in vertically too, as needed
— you're looking for a very fast rise time (or a sharp fall) in the waveform.
Fig. 4a shows a tiny piece of a waveform, but the problem is difficult
to see. A closer look in Fig. 4b reveals the problem: the click is only
two samples long. Toggle the display to Spectral view (Fig. 4c), and
the click is painfully obvious (many people use this view for search-and-destroy
work). To solve the problem, I selected a range that extended beyond the click
and enabled the Fill Single Click feature in the Click/Pop Eliminator. Fig.
4d shows the smoothed result.
Here's another related problem. In a quiet room, hold a smooth,
flat object (or your hand) a few inches in front of your mouth. Open your mouth
and close up the back of your throat with your tongue. Move your tongue all
around, listening carefully. The mouth and glottal noises you hear are common
with inexperienced singers and speakers and can happen with professional talent
when they're a bit dry or tired. You can clean up these high-frequency glitches
using the same method I used for the click, but now for the unorthodox tidbit:
because you can select an area up to 5,000 samples wide when using the Fill
Single Click option, sometimes you can quickly surround and reduce the lower-frequency
glottal noises, too! With a quiet passage in which the voice is prominent or
there is only speech (and gating might therefore be too obvious), using this
trick along with some clever editing and EQ might be your best bet.
Noise reduction is too involved to address thoroughly here;
in general, however, experiment with the Spectral Decay setting and don't try
to cut the noise too deeply (keep in mind that getting good results always depends
on the material you're working with). Carefully select your noise profiles.
A quiet concert recording that has air-handler noise in the background can certainly
be improved, but be careful that your reverb tails don't disappear into digital
artifacts! You might even try reversing a waveform and applying the noise reduction
LET'S GO SWEEPING
Some folks have never worked with a quality hardware equalizer,
and many more don't yet have a trained ear. Audition's Parametric Equalizer
is a powerful tool for finding frequency-related problems, and by following
these steps, you can make it work for you (watch carefully!). You'll need to
grab the file honkguitar.mp3
to try this one at home.
FIG. 5: Creating a sweepable peak with the Parametric
Equalizer is a useful way to identify problem frequencies.
As you'll notice, this file is a short acoustic-guitar track
with a slightly honky sound. Load the file into the Edit view, highlight the
track, and open the Parametric Equalizer. (We won't be using any of the sliders
directly adjacent to the graph.) Select the Reset To Zero (Flat) preset in the
Presets list. In the middle of the screen on the left, click on box 3 to enable
that filter — a new dot appears on the graph. We're about to raise the
volume of a narrow band of frequencies, so before doing anything else, type
“-15” (minus 15) into the Master Gain value field (bottom center)
or reduce your monitor level considerably. This EQ is an Infinite Impulse Response
(IIR) filter, which can ring or feed back. Now, to the right of the graph, drag
slider 3 upward roughly +15 dB and note the graph. Next, enter the value “40”
in the third filter's Q parameter field (marked Width). Observe the graph —
our filter got narrower (see Fig. 5). Click on the Constant Width radio
button and the Q value should change to a frequency range of about 20 Hz.
Now click Preview to loop your selection. Here's the fun part:
in the Center Frequency area, sweep the third slider slowly back and
forth with the mouse. The filter peak we've created will exacerbate the honky
part of the guitar. Congratulations, you've just identified your problem frequencies.
Slowly reduce the level slider, listening carefully as you pass zero. A slight
cut should help, but you might need to increase the filter's width.
This procedure allows easy location and mitigation of many such
problems. When you're comfortable using this technique, you can safely grab
points on the graph with the mouse and move them around. After some practice,
try sweeping your filter with a cut instead of a boost to obtain this result
directly. It's not as easy to hear this way, but it's a great training tool
for your listening skills.
Audition is loaded with effects and processors, and a thorough
exploration of the subject would require another entire article — the
list of parameters is just too vast. Experimentation is often the best approach,
but I'll give a few suggestions to get you going.
I want to be affected
Upon installing Audition, you'll need to enable DirectX effects by choosing
Effects/Enable DX in the Edit view menu. When you add a new effect, be sure
to use the Refresh Effects List menu option. To check if effects are enabled,
go to the Multitrack view, open an Effects Rack, and look for the big DX-enabler
button in the middle of the dialog — if it's not there, effects are already
enabled. Remember, Audition supports DX effects, but not DX instruments.
Even the fastest machines can't run more than a few instances of the Full Reverb
effect, which is probably the most processor-intensive of them all. Locking
an effect will reduce CPU load, and you can always Unlock an effect and adjust
it or insert something else.
You can build your own multiband compression in Audition. Use the Frequency
Band Splitter in the Multitrack view and apply appropriate compressors on the
resultant tracks, or just stack several band-limited compressors in an Effects
Route several tracks to a bus to apply a common effect or overall compression
(complex projects can benefit from buses). Bus functionality and routing could
be improved in Audition (you can't route a bus to another bus, for example),
but it's still rather useful.
Play with the Dynamic Delay and the Stereo Field Rotate effects — they're
a real kick. Or try building your own multivoice chorus and applying it very
sparingly to background vocals. Nice!
Mix it up
The Mixer window gives you a lot of manipulative power, all in one area. Expand
the Mixer with the Show/Hide buttons to show as much or as little of its functionality
as you need. If you click and drag on the top-left corner of the (undocked)
Mixer window off to the lower right of your desktop, it'll leave just the Master
volume visible in a handy, out-of-the way spot.
Envelopes are powerful tools for fine-tuning loudness, panning, effects, and
tempo parameters over time. Enable and Show the Volume envelopes, drag their
endpoints down halfway (-6 dB) to give yourself some working room, and then
raise the track volume by 6 dB to compensate, if necessary.
Sometimes a crossfade just can't be accomplished properly unless you zoom closely
and draw your own envelopes, so go for it. Clicks caused by gaps between waveblocks
can be easily smoothed with Volume envelopes. Usually you'll need only a few
milliseconds of fade at their edges.
Don't forget to use effects and Wet/Dry envelopes in conjunction with track
effects to make dramatic temporal changes (a good companion for that Stereo
Field Rotate effect).
Cool Edit Pro 2.1 added the Multichannel Encoder, and it's still part of Audition.
You need Windows Media 9 Runtime and at least Windows 98 SE to use the WMA multichannel
encoder, so download and install Media Player 9 from Microsoft if needed. Just
in case you're running anything older, DirectX 8.0a or above is also required,
as is an audio card that has a working multichannel Direct-Sound device driver.
Although a handful of users will be ready for 5.1 surround, most probably won't
be. The changeover to 5.1 is still in progress, and many audio cards don't quite
support it (device driver problems are also still common). Things are improving,
though, so do some research and ask questions before you buy any new computer
If you're already mixing 5.1, take care with your bass management and pay attention
to your stereo fold-down mixes. Even check in mono — you never know where
your mixes may end up being played, and broadcast processors can mangle them.
TAKE ME TO YOUR MASTER
FIG. 6: Laying out the segments of a project sequentially
on successive tracks can be useful when mastering a project. Among other
benefits, all tracks and processing are easily accessible.
Mastering in Audition can be approached in many ways, depending
on the material. Some users find it easier to work primarily in the Edit view;
others compile and master their mixes by arranging the segments of a recording
sequentially in the Multitrack view (see Fig. 6). The advantages of that
tack include being able to use effects and processors, such as the stacked band-limited
compressors I mentioned previously, as well as providing quick and easy access
to every element of the project. And the Edit view is still only a button (F12)
away if you need it.
Of course, well-mixed audio segments, whether music, voice,
or what have you, really shouldn't need much in the way of mastering. But when
you're satisfied with your track-to-track balance and any desired processing,
select all waveblocks and mix down the entire project, which will drop you into
Edit view. Hopefully you've been working at 32-bit, so you'll need to convert
to 16-bit (and maybe downsample) for CD (press F11 to access the Convert Sample
Type dialog). Add your CD track cues, merge everything into ranges in the Cue
List, batch everything out to separate files, and you'll be ready to fire up
your favorite CD-writing software.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief survey of recording and mastering
in Audition. Check out the sidebar “Ten Quick Tips” for some additional
useful pointers. And keep your eyes out for even more developments in the Audition
world. No doubt the folks at Adobe have some exciting tricks up their sleeves!
Jon Rose is a musician, engineer, and producer currently
based in Oregon. He records and mixes a wide variety of music and voice projects
If you aren't a current Audition owner, here's a short summary
of the main features of the program. Adobe Audition, which runs on Windows
98 SE and later versions, is largely the same as Cool Edit Pro, version 2.1,
and has the same three primary pillars of functionality: a wave editor for
manipulating mono and stereo tracks, a multitrack interface for recording
and mixing combinations of as many as 128 stereo and mono tracks, and a collection
of processing algorithms, including more than 45 built-in effects as well
as audio restoration and mastering tools.
Audition supports up to 32 recording and playback devices
and can record at 24- and 32-bit resolution at 96 kHz, 192 kHz, and higher
sampling rates. The program also supports DirectX effects plug-ins (but not
DirectX instruments), and it works with WDM (and, of course, MME) drivers.
Acid-like looping and loop-based composition tools, including session tempo-
and key-matching, are integrated into Audition. It can read and write standard
loop-file formats and supports a compressed-loop format for smaller file sizes,
making possible fast online loop exchanges.
Audition is not a MIDI sequencer, but it can play MIDI files
inserted into multitrack sessions, and it can act as a SMPTE master or slave
in synchrony with a software or hardware sequencer or other SMPTE device.
Audition has a variety of other features, such as automatic
silence detection and deletion, tempo detection, scripting and batch-processing
capability, and timed recording, whereby you can set the software like a VCR
to begin recording at a specific time for a set period. There's also support
for more than 20 audio file formats and several data-analysis displays that
update in real time, including frequency analysis and spectral analysis.
Audition should work with any Windows audio interface or sound
card, and it also supports several hardware controllers, including the Tascam
US-428 and US-224, Mackie Control, Event EZbus, and Syntrillium's Red Rover.
You can download a fully functional copy of Audition from www.adobe.com/audition.
TEN QUICK TIPS
Remember to right-click everywhere. Many areas have context-sensitive
pop-up menus that save lots of time. Keep in mind that there can be three
or four ways to get to some of Audition's functions.
A modern pointing device with a scroll wheel is an extremely
powerful tool in Audition and allows you to move around in your sessions
effortlessly. Scrolling through large numbers of tracks, scrolling along
the timeline, or zooming in and out both horizontally and vertically is
as simple as hovering the mouse in these areas and rolling the wheel.
Most of the windows are undockable and movable. Arrange
your desktop any way you like.
Use the Time-Lock button on the Toolbar to lock newly
recorded waveblocks in time. It's very easy to inadvertently nudge a track
with a pointing device. If the track is only a few milliseconds off, you
could waste lots of time looking for this problem later!
Need to make all your tracks the same loudness? In Edit
view, try out the Group Waveform Normalize function, which analyzes and
adjusts a group of files to the same apparent loudness using their RMS
You can drag-and-drop effects right onto a waveblock (in
either Edit view or Multitrack view) from the Organizer window (Alt +
9) for quick, easy access to the effects' dialogs.
Control + P opens the File Header/ID tag window where
you can enter creation information for your WAV and MP3 files.
Need a visual representation of spectral activity? Open
the Frequency windows in Edit view (under the Analyze menu). Frequency
Analysis has four Hold snapshots available for comparison purposes. If
you need to do some discrete FFT analysis, you can export your audio's
FFT data to a text file using Copy Data To Clipboard.
Need to check for mono compatibility? Check out the Phase
Analysis window, also in Edit view. It can show your signal in a Mid-Side
view, as well as Left/Right.
Audition has advanced looping capabilities built right
in, with thousands of free loops available online at www.loopology.com.
Does all this stuff just raise more questions? Try searching
the Knowledge Base and Help areas at www.syntrillium.com/common/search
(and put a check in the Forums box, too).