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electronic MUSICIAN

BIAS PEAK 3.11 (MAC)

By Daniel Keller | April 1, 2003

As an early OS X adopter, BIAS is to be commended for releasing Peak 3.0 right on the heels of OS X's introduction. The popular stereo editing program was the first professional audio application to work with OS X's Core Audio protocol, and expectations have been understandably high. Fortunately, Peak does not disappoint. Now at version 3.11, the program's look, feel, and functionality are better than ever.

Part of Peak's appeal lies in its minimalism. Its colorful interface is straightforward, well organized, easy on the eyes, and filled with visual clues (see Fig. 1). The program's apparent simplicity, however, belies the depths of its capabilities; this is a serious application and one that combines features not typically found in other Macintosh programs.

Peak supports resolutions up to 32-bit and sampling rates up to 10 MHz — well beyond the range of any hardware presently available. The program supports and seamlessly converts a wide range of common formats, including AIFF, SDII, WAV, Broadcast WAV, AU, MP3, RAW, QuickTime, Paris PSF, and Sonic Solutions AIFF. The version 3.1 update added compatibility with QuickTime 6 files, allowing Peak to read and write Dolby's new AAC encoding format — a compression scheme that has been gaining in popularity as an alternative to MP3 for online audio delivery. Peak also works with OS X's Core Audio, Sound Manager, and ASIO and supports the VST plug-in format.

As it did in the previous versions, Peak 3.11 works much like a word processor for audio; indeed, BIAS even refers to audio files as documents. You can arrange, resize, and tile multiple documents, and it's easy to cut, copy, and paste from within any open document window; each document has its own unlimited Undo/Redo menu with a graphic history. Documents can reside in the Dock for retrieval, and you can use the number keys on the Macintosh keyboard to trigger the last ten documents for instant playback — a nice touch.

THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB

A high degree of flexibility is one of Peak's strongest assets. The user interface is fully customizable, allowing you to resize, rearrange, and color most onscreen elements. Most menu commands can be added to or removed from the toolbar, and few tasks require more than a couple of mouse clicks. Keyboard shortcuts are in ample supply, and you can freely reassign key combinations to better suit your working style. The editing palette floats in its own window, and the cursor toggles with the Tab key between the Select, Move, Zoom, and Pencil tools. The Transport bar is also free-floating and features long, multicolored VU-style meters with adjustable peak- and clip-hold times. Above the main waveform view, the Overview display shows the entire waveform, making it easy to locate and zoom in on specific areas.

Peak has a host of features designed to streamline editing tasks, and no matter how you normally use a 2-track editor, you'll find a range of useful tools, including several types of scrubbing (Jog, Tape-Style, and Dynamic), crossfading (and automatic blending at edit points), and a full arsenal of standard editing commands for cropping, deleting, inserting, and extracting selected audio. The program lets you record directly from a live input, or you can import audio tracks directly from a CD. Adding markers to the waveform display is a snap during playback or when the audio is stopped. You can then relabel and color the markers and use them to navigate audio files, create loops, or designate regions.

Peak's Playlist is one of the program's most powerful features. The Playlist is a nondestructive environment that lets you string together a list of regions (from one or more audio documents) without altering the original files. With the Playlist you can assemble a full musical program, replete with crossfades, DSP effects, gain changes, various gap times, and track markers and then save the results as a new audio document in a number of formats. You can even burn the Playlist directly to CD with the included Roxio Toast Lite. I also found the Playlist to be a great remixing tool, useful for experimenting with shuffling parts of a song around while leaving the original file unchanged.

Peak sports a full range of excellent mastering tools, including several high-quality dithering options. The Movie window lets you view QuickTime and DV movies, and you can extract the soundtracks for editing. The movie window syncs to the audio even while you're scrubbing and selecting, which makes Peak an excellent tool for audio post-production.

Peak's Batch File Processor (see Fig. 2) can perform an amazing range of editing and processing functions (bounce, invert, swap channels, fade out, normalize, change pitch, and much more). The program also supports Apple Events, allowing you to automate batch processing and manage file libraries using database applications.

THERE AND BACK

Peak features a number of easy-to-use tools for creating, tuning, duplicating, and exporting loops, edit markers, and regions. One very cool feature is Loop Surfer. It lets you modify the loop during playback, and it can also adjust the loop based on the tempo or on a selected section of audio. Among Peak's other useful features are Guess Tempo, which can estimate the tempo of a designated audio selection, and Loop Tuner, which allows for extremely fine tuning of a loop's start and end points.

Unfortunately, Peak lets you create only one loop per audio document. That's not a major problem because you can always create a copy of the file, but it's an unnecessary extra step if you're pulling multiple loops out of a single audio file. On the other hand, it's easy to transform loops into regions and drop them into a Playlist multiple times for loop-style playback, so having multiple loops in a single document may not always be necessary.

Peak supports sampler transfers using SMDI or SCSI, and it provides dedicated support for several popular units, including Kurzweil's K series, Peavey's SP/SX, Yamaha's A series, and E-mu models. It would be nice to see support for software samplers such as HALion and the Windows-only GigaStudio. In fact, given GigaStudio's popularity among cross-platform Mac professionals, direct GSIF support might be a popular move (although no Mac audio editors currently support proprietary software sample formats).

DSP FOR DAYS

In addition to its standard set of digital signal-processing tools (gain change, normalize, time stretch, pitch change, sampling-rate convert, fade in/out, and so forth), Peak 3.11 also has other features worth noting. The Threshold command analyzes the amplitude levels in an audio file and splits the file into sections much like Propellerhead ReCycle does. It's great for splitting up successive notes from a musical instrument, breaking up a drum loop into its component parts, adjusting the gain of individual drum hits (such as snare or kick drum), and more.

Another interesting DSP tool is Reverse Boomerang. It mixes a reversed copy of the selected audio with the original. I tried it on several drum loops with unexpected but surprisingly usable results.

Several of Peak's DSP tools should be of special interest to sound designers. Convolve allows you to apply the spectral characteristics of one sound to another to create exotic ambiences and frequency combinations. It can also be used with impulse-response files from various acoustic spaces to apply natural reverb to an otherwise dry audio file.

Rappify can degrade a signal and add in a lo-fi grungy element, and you can use Phase Vocoder to introduce some strange spectrum-based resynthesis.

As its name suggests, Click Repair is a handy tool for removing a variety of clicks and pops. It works by scanning the audio document for what the manual describes as “significant discontinuity” from sample to sample. For example, a radical jump in sample value from — 100 to 10,000 and back is most likely a spike, so the offending click is removed, and the area is automatically smoothed over. The smoothing factor, detection level, and size of the repaired area are all user configurable.

PLUG-IN PACK

BIAS's decision to support VST plug-ins in Peak's 2.5 update was a very prudent one. The ubiquity of the VST protocol and the availability of excellent VST products from numerous developers provides an open-ended opportunity to customize Peak's toolkit and to expand the program's versatility.

That's not to say that Peak's own set of plug-ins is at all shabby — far from it. The software ships with more than two dozen high-quality plug-ins, including BIAS's easy-to-use Freeverb and the excellent Freq 4-band paragraphic EQ (see Fig. 3). The Freq EQ features a simple graphic interface that lets you control the gain, frequency, and bandwidth parameters with onscreen dials or by directly grabbing and dragging the displayed EQ curve. Each of the four bands is sweepable from 20 Hz to 20 kHz and includes an individual bypass button. Filtering options include high- and low-shelf, notch, and peak filters. (For $49, Peak users can also upgrade to SuperFreq, which offers up to ten frequency bands and adds low- and high-cut filters.)

Peak now includes a full complement of excellent Carbonized VST effects from Maxim Digital Audio. The effects run the gamut from AutoPan and Leslie simulation to dithering, dynamics processing, and subbass synthesis. Some of the plug-ins offer unique capabilities: RePsycho, an event-based pitch shifter, chops audio into individual beats and shifts each beat down in pitch. It's great for retuning drum loops while maintaining exceptionally tight timing. Mixed with the original source, RePsycho produces several novel effects, including adding subharmonics to selected parts of a rhythm track.

Splitter is another intriguing plug-in; it chops up a signal based on frequency or level. For example, a drum loop could be split so that only the louder or higher-frequency components are sent to a reverb. Splitter also works well as a frequency-based gate.

THINKING INSIDE THE BOX

Peak now ships with a fully integrated version of BIAS's simple yet powerful Vbox application (see Fig. 4). A VST plug-in itself, Vbox serves as a host and management system for other VST plug-ins. Through its intuitive matrix interface, Vbox lets you instantly mix and repatch signal paths among multiple plug-ins. You can create any combination of serial and parallel effects chains and hot-swap plug-ins in real time.

Each plug-in is represented in its own draggable box with input and output faders and meters and solo, mute, bypass, and edit buttons. Master input and output meters appear on either side of the matrix. To try a different routing scheme, you simply drag any of the plug-in boxes from one slot to another; that's all there is to it.

You can resize the matrix up to 99 by 99 slots, affording a nearly endless variety of effects combinations. And of course, you can save setups and recall them for future use. What's more, Vbox routing and parameter states can be applied to Playlist regions, allowing for VST routing and parameter-state automation. And for mastering, any of the effects can be bounced to disk and/or burned directly to CD. (Vbox is available in Mac, Windows 2000, and Windows XP versions.)

DOCS AND INSTALLATION

When my review copy arrived, the first thing I did was shake the box to make sure it wasn't an empty display pack. All the 3-inch-thick box contained was an envelope-packaged CD-ROM, a 14-day-trial CD (of other BIAS products), and a registration card. BIAS has joined the disturbingly popular trend of not printing its product manuals. True, PDFs are economical and updatable, and they save trees. But for learning a complex program with 211 pages of documentation, a paper owner's manual is essential. I was disappointed to find out that BIAS doesn't even offer a printed manual for an additional fee.

That quibble aside, installation was quick and painless. The program runs as a fully functioning demo for 14 days, during which time you need to register with BIAS. I ran into some minor kinks in the online registration process (which BIAS should have fixed by the time you read this), but registering by email garnered me a response in less than 24 hours. Registration by fax or snail mail is also supported.

JAGUAR ON THE BUS?

My test machine for this review was an 800 MHz G4 PowerBook, so I was somewhat limited in my choices for audio I/O; I opted for a Tascam US-224 USB interface. Sonic performance was excellent for the most part, but I did run into a few stumbling blocks. At least once or twice a day, the machine would hang for minutes at a time or lock up completely. At other times, one channel would simply cease playing until I closed and reopened the program. These were never fatal crashes, and I never lost any data, but it was irksome just the same.

In BIAS's defense, these symptoms very likely point to more global issues with Core Audio development in general. On checking several developers resources and user groups, I found a number of references to issues with various USB audio devices under OS X (specifically Jaguar) that mirrored my own experiences. Clearly, Apple and Mac OS developers still have some fine-tuning to do.

Minor protests aside, Peak is easily a winner. It is well designed and intuitive enough for nontechnical users, but its straightforward user interface is accompanied by a very deep feature set, making it a serious tool in the hands of a professional and a program worthy of one.


Daniel Keller spends his days in pursuit of the Any key. He can be reached at algorhythm@csi.com.

Minimum System Requirements

Peak 3.11

G3/200; 64 MB RAM; Mac OS 8.6 or higher, including OS X; hard drive with 18 ms average seek time; Sound Manager 3.3 (for Mac OS prior to OS X); QuickTime 4.0

PRODUCT SUMMARY

BIAS
Peak 3.11
audio-editing software
$499

FEATURES 4.0
EASE OF USE 4.0
DOCUMENTATION 3.0
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Intuitive user interface. Supports OS X, high-resolution audio, CD burning, and a wide range of file formats. Includes dozens of VST plug-ins. Powerful playlist and batch processing capabilities. Several useful loop-editing tools. Includes Vbox for combining VST plug-ins. Supports several hardware samplers.

CONS: No printed manual. No software-sampler support. Allows only a single loop per audio document. Occasional malfunctions.

Manufacturer

Berkley Integrated Audio Software
tel. (707) 782-1866
e-mail sales@bias-inc.com
Web www.bias-inc.com

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