A new version of Cool Edit Pro has arrived, and it's loaded with fresh features and functionality. Once a simple shareware audio editor, Cool Edit Pro has blossomed into a full-fledged environment for audio recording, mixing, and mastering.
With version 2.0, Cool Edit Pro adds real-time EQ and effects, audio buses, CD ripping, and playback support for MIDI and video files. The program also provides a comprehensive environment for loop-based composition and support for several hardware controllers. In addition, the new version boasts new windows, new effects, and plenty of improvements to the previously existing feature set.
The program installed without a hitch on my Pentium 4/1.5 GHz computer; after entering a serial number, I was ready for business. Cool Edit Pro was reviewed in the August 1998 issue of EM, so I'll focus primarily on the new features in this review.
Cool Edit Pro has two primary modes of operation: Edit View, which operates on a single stereo or mono audio file in much the same way as a traditional audio editor, and Multitrack View, which provides access to 128 tracks of audio at once (see Fig. 1). That's twice as many tracks as the previous version of Cool Edit Pro gave you.
A prominent button in the upper left corner switches you between Multitrack View and Edit View (see Fig. 2), and a number of auxiliary window panes complement both views, offering related controls and status indicators. The transport controls, level meters, position indicators, and Session properties all appear in their own panes. (“Session” is Cool Edit's term for a song or project). You can dock, undock, reposition, or hide the auxiliary panes, and if you don't like where the program puts the transport controls, you can move them or have them float as a separate window.
New in version 2.0 is the Organizer, which is a pane for managing the files and effects associated with your project. Each time you add a file to the Multitrack view, and each time you record or edit a file in the Edit view, a reference to the file appears in the Organizer. You can open files directly in the Organizer, audition them, edit them, and insert them into your Session by clicking a button or dragging and dropping. You can filter the file display by file type and sort the display in several ways.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
Another tab in the Organizer shows all of the available effects. (These were called Transforms in the previous version.) Cool Edit Pro comes with a healthy selection of audio processing tools, and it lets you use all of the DirectX effects that are installed on your system.
Version 2.0 supports real-time effects in the Multitrack view and real-time previews in the Edit view. Many of the program's effects have been modified to operate in a real-time mode. (The exceptions include noise reduction, pitch bend, sound generation, and FFT filtering.)
To use an effect, you double-click on it in the Organizer. In the Multitrack view, that adds the effect to the currently selected track. (You can also drag the effect from the Organizer to the track.) In the Edit view, double-clicking the effect opens a dialog box for offline processing. All of the effects in the Organizer are categorized by function; effects are disabled when they are inappropriate for what you are currently doing (offline effects in the Multitrack view, for example).
If you use a particular effect frequently, you can add it to the Organizer's Favorites tab. That tab lets you set up an effect with specific settings and associate the effect setup with a name and an optional shortcut key. In addition to favorite effects, you can also set up favorite Scripts for batch processing in the Edit view and favorite Tools to access other applications on your system. All of your favorites can be organized into a hierarchy for easy access.
Cool Edit Pro's multitrack capabilities have undergone a number of improvements. For starters, there are tools for managing the real-time effects associated with each track. With the Effects Rack for each track, you can add, remove, reorder, and access your effects' settings.
Each track has an Effects Mixer (see Fig. 3) that provides amazing control over the way your effects are applied. Each effect can receive its signal from the original source or from the previous effect in the chain; you decide how much of each. Every effect also has an output fader that adjusts its contribution to the track's output. An additional fader is provided for the original unprocessed signal. Handy buttons let you speedily bypass an effect or configure effects in a serial or parallel arrangement.
Several of Cool Edit Pro's effects are EQ-related, but you may find it more convenient to use each track's dedicated 3-band parametric EQ with optional high and low shelving. (The bands are labeled simply H, M, and L.) You can specify two different sets of EQ settings for each track and quickly switch between them with a button click.
If your processor can't handle all of the real-time effects that you're piling on, it's easy to reduce the load. Just press the Lock button on one or more tracks. Cool Edit Pro then preprocesses the track with all of its effects, thereby reducing the work your CPU performs when playback begins. What's more, the Lock button does not affect the real-time track EQ, so even if you lock down a track's effects, you can still make the track fit better in the mix.
In the current version of Cool Edit Pro, you can send the outputs of your tracks to buses. By using a bus instead of a physical output device, you can group related tracks for mixdown and effects processing. (Buses can have Effects Racks, just like tracks.) The program supports up to 26 buses.
Remixers and loop-based composers will be glad to hear that Cool Edit Pro now lets you create special Cool Edit Loop (CEL) files that store tempo, beat, and key information with the audio. You can then insert the CEL files into the Multitrack view where the program handles the tempo and key matching for you. Syntrillium offers more than 2,000 royalty-free CEL loops in 15 different styles for free at www.loopology.com.
For each loop, you specify the number of beats and the waveform's key. (You can specify a key of “non-voiced” for percussion parts.) Cool Edit Pro calculates the tempo for you, based on the length of the loop. Each loop can run continuously with no gaps or can repeat after a user-definable number of beats. You can enter a number of seconds instead, if you aren't trying to synchronize the loop with the beat.
Cool Edit Pro does its magic when you change the tempo or key of your Session. It then automatically repitches all of the voiced loops to the new key. Each loop gets a new tempo, according to one of four methods that you specify for each loop: you can have the loop stretched in time without affecting pitch, you can resample the loop (which affects pitch), you can specify a fixed length, or you can use beat splicing.
The Fixed Length method doesn't change the loop when the tempo changes. Beat splicing chops the loop into beats to change its length. You can tell Cool Edit Pro to use beat markers embedded in the file (not all files have them), or the program can try to find the beats automatically. In the latter case, you must first specify an amplitude change over a specific duration to define the beats. (For example, a beat may be defined as a 10 dB rise in amplitude within a period of 4 ms.)
MIDI AND VIDEO
Cool Edit Pro now supports video and MIDI files in the Multitrack view. When you insert them into your Session, the files also appear in the Organizer along with distinctive icons to indicate their file type.
MIDI files are supported for playback only, so I wouldn't recommend tossing out your sequencer just yet. You can view video content as it plays, and you can extract the audio portion of a video file. AVI files are the only officially supported video format, although you can extract audio — and sometimes see the video — from several variants of MPEG files.
A “filmstrip” view of the video in the Multitrack view is a bit disappointing. Typically, these kinds of displays provide still images of the video frames to help you navigate within the file. In Cool Edit Pro, however, the filmstrip is blank and adds little value other than to indicate the length of the video.
Cool Edit Pro's new Mixers window offers an alternative to the controls in the Multitrack view. It functions in much the same way as the mixers in other DAW products, so I won't cover it in detail here. However, I do lament the lack of MIDI-based controller support for the mixer controls (here and in the Multitrack view). Cool Edit Pro supports Syntrillium's Red Rover controller (see the sidebar “Red Rover”) as well as Tascam's US-428 and US-224, but the program supports none of the fancy new hardware control surfaces on the market (nor does it support the MIDI fader boxes you may already own).
Even if you have a supported hardware controller, you can't record volume, panning, or other changes in real time as your masterpiece plays. You can, however, draw envelope curves into the Multitrack view. I like the envelopes, but they're better suited for editing existing level and panning automation — not for generating the automation events in the first place. For that, I want to record my fader movements.
Speaking of envelopes, some new envelope types were added to this version of Cool Edit Pro. In addition to panning and volume, you can automate the overall wet-to-dry mix of a track with effects. New Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Delay, and Stereo Field Rotate effects have parameters that you can automate by drawing envelopes in the Multitrack view.
THE REST OF THE STORY
The remaining version 2.0 enhancements are really too numerous to cover. In addition to the new effects mentioned above, Cool Edit Pro offers a new Doppler Shifter (for “fly-by” pitch-shifting effects) and a Graphic Phase Shifter. The Doppler Shifter was a blast to play with. I entered distances, a velocity, and a direction of travel, and the program figured out what to do with the sound. The Graphic Phase Shifter lets you map a sound's phase across the frequency spectrum. A new Phase Analysis tool is also provided.
A Group Waveform Normalize feature lets you establish the same perceived level for a group of files (which is useful for compiling your tunes on a CD), and a Frequency Band Splitter effect lets you create up to eight separate tracks, each of which contains only a certain band of the frequencies in the source track. Want to put some delay on only the middle-high frequencies of your vocal track? With this feature, you can do it.
Wrapping up the list of enhancements are CD-ripping capability, a metronome, and the ability to act as the time-code master for SMPTE and MTC. (Previously, only slave mode was supported.) The program also provides a number of cosmetic and interface enhancements, and Syntrillium has recently announced Cool Edit Pro's support for the new Windows Media Audio 9 Professional codec that enables you to stream multichannel 5.1 surround mixes at resolutions as high as 24-bit, 96 kHz.
All in all, this is a feature-packed upgrade to an outstanding product, and at $249, it's a tremendous value. Even if you use a different program for recording and mixing, Cool Edit Pro is worth the price just for its comprehensive (and sometimes unique) effects. The PDF-based documentation is readable and thorough, and the program's context-sensitive Help usually found me the answer I needed with one or two button clicks. What's more, the audio quality of the program's recordings and effects sounded great in my small project studio.
Allan Mettsis an Atlanta-based musician, software and systems designer, and consultant.
Minimum System Requirements
Cool Edit Pro 2.0
Pentium II/233 MHz CPU (Pentium III/700 MHz recommended); 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended); Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
If you need to remotely control Cool Edit Pro, check out Syntrillium's Red Rover ($129). This handy box is about the size of a paperback book, yet it provides access to nearly everything you need to lay down tracks in Cool Edit Pro (see Fig. A). Red Rover is ideal for recording your instruments well away from a noisy computer environment.
In my case, installing the Red Rover was as easy as plugging it in to the USB port (a ten-foot USB cable is provided). Windows immediately recognized it as a Human Interface Device and activated the drivers that were already part of my Windows 2000 installation. What's more, the device is powered from the USB port; I didn't even deal with a wall wart or batteries.
The Red Rover sports a 2-line by 20-character backlit LCD screen, a 7-segment level meter (with a clipping indicator), and knobs for master volume, track volume, and track selection. It has a full set of transport controls, as well as buttons for muting, soloing, and arming the currently selected track. Each of the buttons has a corresponding LED that indicates its status.
Rounding out the controls are two more buttons, one to add cue markers and another to toggle the metronome on and off. You can adjust the display contrast or switch off its backlight with controls on the side of the unit. A footswitch connector lets you set up hands-free access to the Record button. (A footswitch is not included.)
Recording with the Red Rover couldn't be easier. You select the track you want, arm it for recording, and press the Record button. The LCD shows which track you're on, the device numbers in use for playback and recording, and the current settings for master and track volumes. If data already exists in a particular track, a special indicator shows that, too.
The LCD also shows the current transport status and position, using whatever format Cool Edit Pro happens to be using. If you change Cool Edit Pro's display from bars and beats to SMPTE, the change is immediately reflected in the Red Rover (nice touch).
The Red Rover is great for tracking but not so great for mixdown; after all, it has no pan controls or fader banks. I only wish the device were wedge-shaped (or had an easel on the back to tilt it). The display faces nearly straight up, so unless the device was right under my nose, the LCD was difficult to see. A bracket for mic-stand mounting would also improve matters.
Syntrillium advises against placing the Red Rover more than ten feet from your computer without using an active USB cable extender or hub. My acoustic piano is in a different room (about 30 feet away) from my computer. With its built-in position indicator and transport controls, Red Rover would be ideal for tracking the piano. But unfortunately, extending a USB signal that far is an expensive proposition. (Hey Syntrillium: How about a MIDI-based version?)
All in all, this is a spiffy little box. If you use Cool Edit Pro for tracking, be sure to check out the Red Rover.
Cool Edit Pro 2.0
multitrack audio editor
$279 (boxed with printed manual)
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0DOCUMENTATION4.0VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Well-designed, intuitive user interface. Extensive variety of real-time effects. Effects locking allows effective management of CPU resources. File looping support with tempo and key matching. Organizer section provides easy file and effects management.
CONS: Minimal support for hardware controller surfaces. Cannot record envelope changes in real time.