Project-studio musicians and engineers looking for pro workstation functionality in an easy-to-use package are often faced with a daunting host of sequencers on steroids, so it's refreshing to come across a piece of digital audio software that's full-featured but not as difficult to embrace. Syntrillium Cool Edit Pro 2.0 has been a preferred tool for amateur musicians since its days as shareware, but the latest update of the product is sure to broaden its user base considerably.
The principal enhancements in version 2.0 include a significant bump in the total number of tracks possible (up to 128 from 64), looping tools, real-time effects and EQ (to include track busing), a new mixer window and limited MIDI support. Top that off with audio resolution support to 32-bit, 192kHz. At $249, what was once viewed as a package for mostly entry-level users now moves into the pro arena.
Installation is as much of a breeze as you'd expect from any 21st-century application, and once Cool Edit is up and running, its interface is one of the simpler to navigate. Users can switch between Edit and Multitrack views by clicking on the Toggle switch in the upper left-hand corner of the display beneath the File menu (see Fig. 1). The Transport buttons (Stop, Play, Pause and so forth) located at the lower left side of the display may no longer be in demand with the arrival of Syntrillium's new Red Rover USB controller ($129, sold separately).
RED ROVER, RED ROVER
Cool Edit users who opt for the Red Rover controller can now set their recordings in motion from as far away as 10 feet from that unmusical keyboard-and-mouse combo. Not much smaller than a standard VHS videotape, the Red Rover duplicates all of the standard transport controls and adds a few extra useful elements to the design. You can not only add cues; activate the metronome; or solo, mute and record a track but also select which track you are working on and monitor Cool Edit output levels. After I plugged the Red Rover into my Windows 2000 box, my system instantly recognized it, and it caused no noticeable conflicts with any other USB device. If your project studio is a dust-infested rat's nest of cables, you will also appreciate the Red Rover being able to draw its power from that USB connection, eliminating the need to add one more AC adapter to your rig. You can even extend the functional distance of Red Rover from the host PC with the use of a USB extension cable or a third-party hub — meaning that any member of your live ensemble could set Cool Edit in motion from the farthest reaches of your rehearsal space.
Unlike many controllers that favor a mushy, soft pad design, the Red Rover provides a firm and resounding click when you punch one of its transport controls. One improvement to Red Rover's design, however, might be added flexibility in the incremental adjustment for the volume controls. If you find that Red Rover doesn't quite cut it for you, the new breed of Mackie Control MIDI controllers will soon support Cool Edit at a more upmarket price.
In terms of its traditional elements, Cool Edit remains a rock-solid sound-editing tool that rivals more fashionable products such as Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge. Multiple undos and nondestructive editing (until a file has been saved) combined with real-time previews of applied effects made my editing sessions move along quicker. Here's a particular tasty editing feature I discovered while working with a simple vocal piece: After plastering over a rather mundane sample with the nifty Robotic delay preset, I was able to add the effect to a quick list of preferred procedures and settings that appears within the Favorites menu. After the effect was applied and tweaked to my satisfaction, I merely dropped down the Edit Favorites menu option, clicked on New in the pop-up dialog box, clicked on the Copy From Last button, and my previous actions were saved and inserted in the Favorites menu. To make sure that I didn't forget what subset the effect fell under, I gave the effect a descriptive name before I closed the Edit Favorites dialog. I was even able to create a shortcut key for my edit so that I could increase the overall pace of my editing.
As part of its effort to reach out to the dance-music community, Syntrillium has made a concerted push to include flexible looping tools in its latest Cool Edit revision. However, users have a few basic techniques to become accustomed to before migrating their Sonic Foundry Acid-honed looping skills to Cool Edit.
Once you create a new session, you need to be mindful of a few things while dropping loops into the Multitrack View. After placing the first WAV file on track 1, you will note that the Tempo field reflects the setting of the newly added file. To verify that the bpm is actually set to the loop's native tempo, right click on the block and select Loop Properties. The resulting dialog has all the pertinent info about the settings associated with the file. By right-clicking on the horizontal ruler, you can change the session mode to Bars and Beats, which is available from the pop-up Display Time Format list. Enable Snapping (Snapping > Snap to Blocks from the same ruler pop-up), and you are essentially good to go. Left-clicking on the bottom-right edge of your wave block allows for seamless stretching of your loop. From there, you can continue to add loops to your session and make global changes to the tempo or the key as needed.
The company has also developed Loopology.com (http://loopology.com), a Website specifically devoted to promoting this new functionality. Loopology.com offers thousands of royalty-free loops of almost any musical flavor. Loop sets from Loopology.com are only available in a Cool Edit's proprietary mp3Pro-encoded CEL format. CEL files are essentially MP3-formatted data with an additional header of information that facilitates the looping process. CEL files are still rendered at CD quality, though much smaller size, so users armed with DSL or cable modem connections can acquire and audition whole handfuls of loops at faster speeds. In addition, all of the material offered at Loopology.com is performed (not sequenced) by professional musicians. The site also hosts a moderated forum for users interested in swapping tips and techniques.
Those of you raised in the point-and-paint world of music production, however, may find that your well-honed looping skills are not that easily transferred to Cool Edit Pro. Subtle techniques and configuration issues might somewhat slow down the productivity of the “just-add-Acid” musician, but this is where Cool Edit's exceptionally well-written Help comes into play. By briefly skimming the online documentation, users should be able to cross over with minimal frustration.
If you find that you need further information, you can read through the excellent tutorials available on Syntrillium's Website or dash out and purchase a copy of Richard Riley's newly released Audio Editing With Cool Edit (PC Publishing) to fill in the blanks. Riley's text is snappy, no-nonsense advice for users faced with any number of routine and practical engineering tasks.
WORK THOSE EFFECTS
Cool Edit Pro effects (formerly called Transforms) can be used nondestructively and in real time versus manipulating them in the Edit View. You can easily create effects racks for individual tracks or drive a group of tracks through an effects chain by busing them together.
Included in version 2.0 are a wide array of Amplitude, Delay, Filters, Noise Reduction and Time/Pitch effects (see Fig. 2). There's also a few listed as Special effects with intriguing names such as Brainwave Synchronizer and Convolution. With Convolution, you can use what Cool Edit refers to as an Impulse file to multiply the samples in one wave with the samples of another. You can use the small handful of Impulse files that come with Cool Edit, or you can build them on your own. I employed the Slapup Impulse setting over a standard 808 drum pattern and wound up with an otherworldly Aphex Twin — styled rhythm of a completely different character.
Several of the effects bundled with Cool Edit allow for visually graphic alterations of their associated parameters, which is an intriguing bonus. Using presets as starter points, it is simple (and entertaining) to add points along the matrix and severely warp the display. Once you are satisfied with your modifications, you can even click the spline curve checkbox to refine your variations into smoother — but still unique — sets of transitions. The Dynamic Delay was particularly fun to use across rhythm loops to produce unexpected slap backs and to add dynamic tension. To save on CPU usage, you can also lock any real-time effects you are using on a particular track into the background mix. Cool Edit Pro 2.0 also provides support for DirectX effects. Having downloaded the demo version of Thelotron's BeatModel plug-in pack after Cool Edit was securely installed, I simply refreshed the Effects menu (Effects > Refresh Effects List), and a DirectX submenu reflecting the new set of effects was added.
Another happening feature in the effects arena is the automation of detailed effects settings via envelopes. For instance, load any loop into the Track View, select Show FX Parameter Envelopes from the View menu and then add an effect by clicking on the blue FX button for that track. By adding the Dynamic EQ effect, for example, all three of its gain, frequency and Q settings are then represented by multicolored envelope lines across the track once you've checked the box labeled Automated for each. Tweaking them individually is as simple as creating a point and dragging it up or down across the waveform. With short loops, that can be particularly handy when you are conducting microsurgery on a part and you want to do things like dramatically boost your gain automatically for 16 beats and then drop it back down immediately afterward.
If that's not enough automation to reduce the chore factor of your productions, Cool Edit lets you create scripts in which specific operations can be stored and performed again and again with nothing more than a mouse-click. Just like macros in your favorite word processor can instantly perform editing functions in a document, the batch processing included in Cool Edit can record and save any sequence of procedures you apply repeatedly. Got a specific flange effect that you have painstakingly worked out over time? Save it and employ as needed without having to search for that coffee-stained scratch pad on which you wrote down how much stereo phasing you used.
BUILT-IN CD RIPPING
CD-ripping capability is now built in to Cool Edit Pro and can help kick start your project by quickly getting music into Multitrack or Edit view. For your burning pleasure, Syntrillium is currently distributing a beta version of its CD-burning plug-in via its Website. Once installed, the plug-in was mildly confusing as to where it manifested. It turns out, however, that the CD-write functions are accessed with a button in the Edit window as opposed to in the Multitrack view — the intent apparently being that users will burn a CD once they have created a stereo mixdown.
With all of the increased functionality written into version 2.0, Cool Edit Pro definitely still has room to grow. Although the program supports MIDI files and triggering of any its shortcuts, Cool Edit is not a not a sequencer and doesn't claim to be one. This might instantly be a signal to would-be remixers using a complex chain of MIDI gear to dismiss Cool Edit, because Syntrillium has made no clear intention to add further MIDI capability.
What might be a more attractive move on the part of Syntrillium developers is to weld on VST support to Cool Edit for users who are hooked on the myriad VST Instruments available in the digital-audio universe. But for those users piecing together projects from finished stereo masters, the current incarnation is sure to rival Sonic Foundry's flagship Acid product. The combination of intuitive editing, superior sound and the power of VST would surely put Cool Edit in the position to be the killer digital-audio application in its class. As it stands, Cool Edit is a blessing to novices and professionals alike.
Cool Edit Pro 2.0
$249 (download); $279 (boxed)
Pros: Added looping tools. Free online loop library. Increased track count. CD ripping. Hardware-controller support.
Cons: Limited MIDI capability. No VST support.
Overall Rating: 4