APPLE Final Cut Studio 2 (Mac)

A multitrack video and audio editor and a lot more.
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BONUS MATERIAL
Learn more about the main video software in the Final Cut Studio 2 bundle

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FIG. 1: Soundtrack Pro''s interface includes the Timeline, which is a multitrack view, and the File Editor, where you work on a single mono, stereo, or multichannel file. You can save multiple layouts that include whichever work areas you want.

Apple's Final Cut Studio 2 (FCS 2) is a suite of high-end professional audio- and video-editing tools. Of particular interest to musicians will be the new version of the multitrack audio editor Soundtrack Pro (SP 2), which is the focus of this review. SP 2 has undergone a number of major enhancements, including support for multichannel files and multichannel metering (up to 24 channels), surround mixing, new DSP functions, and overall efficiency boosts. As expected, SP 2 also provides better integration with the video apps in the suite.

We've reviewed Soundtrack Pro in the past, most recently version 1.0 in the September 2005 issue (available online at www.emusician.com), so I'll mostly cover the new features in this article. (For information about the main video software in the bundle, see the online bonus material at www.emusician.com.) Note that Soundtrack Pro 2 is also available in the newly released Logic Studio ($499 [MSRP]; upgrade from Logic Pro 6 or 7, $199), where it joins forces with Logic Pro 8 and a number of other music applications. Look for a review of Logic Studio in a forthcoming issue.

Out of the Box

Like its predecessor, Soundtrack Pro 2 offers both a dedicated editing view called the File Editor, which can handle mono, stereo, and multichannel files, and a multitrack Timeline view (see Fig. 1). The Timeline supports an unlimited number of audio tracks as well as a single video track, but there's no support for MIDI (other than syncing to MTC). Some functions (time-stretch, for example) are available only in the File Editor, and it's easy to open a clip from a track in the Timeline in the Editor. However, once you've made a change to a clip, it's not so simple to replace the old version with the new one — you must first save it as a new file and then reload it. Fortunately, integration among other elements of the program is much better.

SP 2's interface consists of a number of modular windows that you can freely reposition. Unfortunately, Close and Maximize icons do not appear on the windows until you attempt to move them from their default location, so simply removing a pane from the interface is indeed a pain (there is a drop-down menu that you can also use to show or hide some windows). However, you can save as many customized screen layouts as you need — I made one for scoring to picture, another for multitrack mixing, and a third for loading multiple files from the File Browser into the multitrack.

Several work areas split out further into tabbed subareas, while others have associated HUDs (Heads Up Displays), which are large windows that float on the screen. In most cases, the HUDs provide additional features above and beyond what appears in the main window. The new Fade Curve HUD, for instance, pops up when you double-click on a crossfade between two clips. You use it to select separate fade-in and fade-out shapes.

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FIG. 2: The Surround Panner HUD offers parameters you can automate and is an efficient work area for surround mixing.

Improvements to the Bin display now make keeping track of the assets in your project much easier. The Bin shows information about all the files in all open projects, including their duration, sampling rate, and size, and allows you to easily locate every instance of a file in a project. The Bin is also a good place to access the Spot To Playhead option. Locate the exact spot in a video file where you want a music cue to appear, move the playhead to that point, then control-click on a clip in the Bin and choose Spot To Playhead. The file will snap to the playhead's location and line up perfectly with the video. You can also use this command to position a clip from the File Browser directly to the Timeline if you have a multitrack project open, but not if you are in the File Editor. Nor can you send a file directly to the Timeline from the File Editor itself.

The same drop-down menu that contains the Spot To Playhead command provides access to the Replace command, which lets you replace a highlighted clip with another audio file. Though the new clip snaps to the old clip's location, you lose any processing or effects that might have been on the original clip. All processing and effects are stored in the Action list, however, so if you save the list as an AppleScript, you could easily duplicate the processing or effects on the new clip (or elsewhere).

The Details window, which is one of four tabs that appear to the left of the Bin when using the default layout, shows additional information about each clip and, from the Timeline, can be used to edit a clip's start time, position, and duration. I found this quite handy for pinpointing the location where I wanted clips to start and end, especially when syncing with a visual event. The Details window also appears when you are in the File Editor, but the various parameter fields are nonfunctional. It would be very useful if you could specify a clip's start time and duration from this window and then send the clip directly to that spot in the Timeline.

Meet Your Match

Musicians working with video often need to match the ambience of audio files created in multiple physical locations. SP 2 offers two tools that make that job easy. First is the new Lift and Stamp tool, which you use to apply the EQ (and processing, if desired) characteristics of one clip onto another. Lift and Stamp appears in an HUD, and the process couldn't be simpler. The new Ambient Noise feature could also be useful in this situation, as it allows you to capture the background room ambience of a silent section from one file and apply it to another. This is a better solution than, say, simply inserting pure (digital) silence.

SP 2 adds support for 5.1 surround mixing and offers a simple interface for doing the job. Control-click on the pan slider in the track-header area and choose Surround Panner, and the pan control will be replaced with a round surround icon that you can easily manipulate with the mouse. If you need to make fine adjustments to the tracks' surround position, click on the surround icon, and a larger HUD will appear (you can also access the Surround Panner HUD from the Mixer; see Fig. 2). All of the surround parameters can be automated, and you can create a surround mix even if your hardware doesn't support multichannel output. That option isn't offered by all audio editors.

The Spectrum Editor has received some minor enhancements; for example, the new Frequency Selection tool lets you isolate any range of frequencies and process only that area. The processing is limited to cut, copy, paste, and amplitude boost, however — unlike in Adobe Audition and Steinberg Wavelab (both Windows only), there's no way to add reverb, delay, or any other effect to just a highlighted range of frequencies. Speaking of effects, SP 2 ships with dozens of impulse responses for use with the newly included Space Designer convolution plug-in, and you can also use any AIFF file you want as an IR. Space Designer has a very intuitive interface and would be useful both for simulating room ambiences and for cross-synthesis purposes.

BONUS MATERIAL
Learn more about the main video software in the Final Cut Studio 2 bundle

BONUS MATERIAL
Learn more about the main video software in the Final Cut Studio 2 bundle

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FIG. 3: The new Multipoint Video HUD makes it easy to line up an audio clip with a point in a video.

Take That!

The Multitake Editor is a handy new tool for managing recording sessions that require multiple takes. Set the Cycle Region to cover the duration of your recording (or use the entire track), arm the track, click on Record, and off you go. The program will record until the end of the specified duration and then automatically rewind and continue to record. When you've completed as many takes as you need, click on Stop, and you'll see each individual take appear as a separate clip on its own track in a new window below the main Timeline, along with another track that represents the composite of all the individual takes.

To create a finished composite take, use the Razor tool to split each take into as many segments as you want, then highlight each segment of each take that you plan to keep. The composite take automatically updates as you make selections, so you can preview your progress at any point. You can easily solo a complete take or just a segment, scrub individual takes, add fades at cut points, or move the clips forward or backward. Overall, the Multitake Editor makes creating seamless composites easy and keeps the Timeline screen from getting needlessly cluttered.

Point of View

SP 2 supports only a single video track, and the track can contain only a single video file that is always positioned at the very beginning of a project. As expected, though, it does have very capable features for syncing audio cues with video scenes.

Using the new Multipoint Video HUD, for instance, you can get a clear idea of what's happening in the video at the point where an audio clip starts and ends. Enable the Multipoint Video HUD and click on an audio clip, and the HUD will display the exact video frames at the start and end of the clip and at the location of the playhead (see Fig. 3). Then drag the right end of the audio clip to extend its length, and the right panel of the HUD will update to display the frame at the new clip end point. The same feature is available if you're moving or time-stretching a clip. (It would be nice if the video image also updated as you drew volume curves on a clip, for example, showing exactly where a fade-out started or a fade-in ended.)

Not surprisingly, you can display video on an external RGB monitor if you have the proper hardware, and you can remove or edit and replace the audio from a QuickTime movie. Soundtrack Pro also now has the ability to nudge an audio clip in increments of frames, which should make video editors happy.

Buying a bundle like Final Cut Studio 2 just for the audio capabilities is not something I would suggest. In fact, if you want only the multitrack editing features of SP 2, then the new Logic Studio combo is a better bet. But if you've decided to take the plunge into video, this well-conceived audio and video workstation is definitely worth a look. The tight integration of the programs in the bundle, and the enormous combined resources they offer, can take you from the back lot to the main stage.

Associate Editor Dennis Miller is a composer and animator. Check out his work atwww.dennismiller.neu.edu.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

APPLE
Final Cut Studio 2

multitrack video and audio editor
$1,299 (MSRP)

upgrade from Final Cut Studio, $499

upgrade from Final Cut Pro, $699

FEATURES 4 EASE OF USE 4 DOCUMENTATION 4 VALUE 4 RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Vast range of audio and video software.

Good integration among programs in bundle.

Good video-scoring tools.

CONS: Soundtrack Pro File Editor and multitrack Timeline need better integration.

MANUFACTURER

Apple
www.apple.com

BONUS MATERIAL
Learn more about the main video software in the Final Cut Studio 2 bundle