WaveLab 6.0b is the latest version of Steinberg's high-end multitrack audio-editing software. As in the past, the developer has added a huge number of new features to an already mature program. Among the main enhancements are MIDI-based triggering and scrubbing of audio files, a powerful new spectral editor, new filter types and filter-processing options, and updated analysis and metering features. Other enhancements, though more pedestrian, are aimed at work-flow management and can help in nearly any project.
EM has covered WaveLab in the past (see the December 2004 issue), so after first giving a quick overview of the program, I'll focus on the features of this new version.
From the Top
WaveLab combines a nondestructive multitrack audio editor called the Audio Montage with a dedicated stereo audio work area. The program supports a vast number of file formats for import and export and can display individual frames of a video file on its dedicated video track. WaveLab provides robust tools for DVD-Audio and CD creation as well as sophisticated surround editing and mixing and has many navigation and display options. (Its customizable 3-D “waterfall” spectral view is still my favorite.) It also offers extensive database features, such as the ability to identify all media files on your system and organize them according to categories you determine.
FIG. 1: WaveLab 6''s Wave window has several new display modes. Here you can see the new Loudness -Envelope at the top of the screen and the new -Spectrum Editor at the bottom. The new Waveform Scope, also -available in the Audio Montage area, appears in the upper right corner.
I tested WaveLab 6 on a 3.02 GHz Pentium 4 computer with Windows XP SP1 and 2 GB of RAM, and on a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 laptop with the same operating system and 1 GB of RAM. As before, installation is off a single CD-ROM, but for the first time, WaveLab requires a hardware dongle. No online authorization is required, though registration is recommended. A quick trip to the Steinberg Web site revealed an update from the version that came on the CD-ROM.
When you first load WaveLab 6, you won't see much that's different from previous versions. The Wave window (WaveLab's stereo editor) opens to a large data area, with a file overview just above it and whatever icons and toolbars you choose to display just above that. Look closer, though, and you'll notice a new icon that lets you toggle between a standard waveform display, the new Spectrum Editor view, and the new Loudness Envelope window (see Fig. 1). There are a variety of display options for each of these windows, and like elsewhere, you can save presets that customize the display to your liking.
The options in the Loudness Envelope display, for example, allow you to show loudness levels in only the high- or the low-frequency ranges or in an isolated band of frequencies. You can also set the time resolution and the tracking rate for the envelopes. The file overview and the Wave window can display different views at the same time.
WaveLab's Audio Montage remains much the same, though there are some new features designed to make repetitive tasks less time-consuming. For starters, it's easier to adjust fades and lengths for multiple clips simultaneously. Hold down the Alt key when making a change to any clip, and all the other selected clips will receive the same edit. You can also render multiple individual regions to new files at the same time. If you didn't name the regions when you first created them, WaveLab can batch-rename them using a new feature dedicated to that purpose.
The Wave window has added several Processes, including a Pan Normalizer, a Level envelope, a Pitch quantizer, and a 3-band EQ with Q control. The Pan Normalizer analyzes the levels of each channel in a stereo file and will boost the softer of the two to match the gain of the louder, thus removing any panning. The other processes work as advertised, though the Loudness Normalizer is notable for its large number of parameters, including one called “Compensate for ear's frequency sensitivity” that I haven't seen before.
Unlike some other multitrack editors, WaveLab still can't mix files of different sampling rates in the same project. But the Batch Process tool is a great time-saver, especially if you need to change the rates of multiple files at once. Be sure to use the new Crystal Resampler plug-in to get the best possible results.
WaveLab's extensive recording options have not been enhanced, and the only significant new playback feature is the ability to slave to ASIO positioning protocol, which provides sample-accurate sync, for example, with an ADAT device.
FIG. 2: The Effect Morphing feature lets you crossfade between two processed versions or one processed and one -unprocessed version of a file.
Where the Action Is
The real action in WaveLab 6 is in the editing and processing areas. Among the many new editing features is the Spectrum Editor, which is intended primarily for audio restoration but also has great potential for creative sound design. You can use the editor to cut, copy, or paste any range of frequencies over any amount of time. Using the highest vertical and horizontal zoom levels, you can perform surgically precise edits on individual components of your sound. You can also highlight a range from within the sonogram display and send only that range to the Master Section for processing. That means you can add reverb to only the lower partials in a vocal track or process just the high frequencies of a cymbal sample with a bit of delay (see Web Clips 1 and 2).
I was disappointed to see the Pencil editing tool grayed out when I accessed the Spectrum Editor window. It would have been great to be able to draw directly on the display and have WaveLab resynthesize the file according to my modifications. I would also like to have seen more selection options — for instance, the ability to select just odd or even partials.
The new Dirac time-stretching and pitch-shifting algorithms, developed by Stefan Bernsee of Prosoniq fame, are big improvements over their predecessors. Stretching a 6-second file with the new algorithm took 30 seconds on my laptop but resulted in virtually no artifacts. The old stretch method finished nearly instantaneously, but the resulting file had considerable artifacts (see Web Clip 3).
WaveLab 6 has a new Effect Morphing feature that lets you crossfade between a processed and unprocessed or two different processed versions of a file (see Fig. 2). The feature takes a little getting used to (you must first copy one of the processed versions to the Clipboard, for example) but ultimately produces the expected results.
FIG. 3: WaveLab''s Plug-ins tab is where you can create extensive VST effects-plug-in chains.
Speaking of effects, if you use hardware effects devices in your studio, you'll appreciate the External Gear plug-in. This plug-in, which you can use anywhere in the processing chain, is designed to route audio out of the program to external hardware for processing, then directly back in for rendering. It's more flexible than an audio interface that might have a similar option but that works only at the final output stage. And if you happen to have a lot of plug-ins, you'll like the Plug-ins tab that appears in the Audio Montage. This tab provides access to the plug-ins (VST only) on your system and allows you to create complex effects chains that can be saved for use on other projects (see Fig. 3).
WaveLab has always had numerous metering options, but version 6 adds yet another. This time we get the Waveform Scope, which shows you a real-time update of a sound wave as it is being rendered, complete with all effects and processes. This allows you to spot exactly where a problem (clipping, for example) might lie within a file before you commit it to disk.
WaveLab 6 lets you customize more elements of the program than previous versions do, from the look of its menus and windows to added features in its Preferences menu. For example, there's a new dedicated VST window in the Preferences menu that offers additional options, such as whether WaveLab should scan for new plug-ins each time it loads. Other preferences have been consolidated, resulting in a smaller number of Preference windows overall. WaveLab has also assumed some functions that you'd normally perform from Windows itself, such as setting file associations and copying data to the Clipboard for use in other programs.
I've used WaveLab for many projects, including producing audio for video, composing computer music, cueing sound effects live in a theatrical setting, and mixing dozens of audio tracks. I've always found it to be the fastest environment for composing and mixing. Though some of the new features aren't as well integrated as they might be, which is inevitable with such a feature-rich and mature program, others are tightly integrated and feel as though they were there from the start.
WaveLab 6 has so many features, you might occasionally feel overwhelmed, and a good set of video tutorials would be a welcome addition. But the printed manual that comes with the program provides an excellent overview and makes for good reading. If you need a high-end multitrack editor that can manage nearly all your media needs, give WaveLab a try.
Associate Editor Dennis Miller composes music and images. His works can be found atwww.dennismiller.neu.edu.
multitrack audio editor
competitive upgrade, $399
FEATURES4EASE OF USE4DOCUMENTATION5VALUE4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Huge feature set. High-end spectral-editing options. Numerous file formats supported. Excellent documentation.
CONS: No support for playback of MIDI data. No multitrack mixer. Can't mix files of different sampling rates in the same project.