Hardware And Software Reviews
Sound Forge 9.0:
SOUND FORGE 9.0 ADDS CHANNELS
A Software Review By
Read G. Burgan
In the 1990’s, Sound Forge became one of the first PC based digital audio editors. Like the once ubiquitous tape recorder, it quickly became a familiar and welcome part of our broadcast world.
Multi-Channel v.s. Multi-Track
From the very beginning, SF has been a two track audio editor. With SF 9.0, Sony has addressed the two-track limitation. However, instead of adding multi-track editing to SF, it has opted for something in-between which Sony calls “multi-channel” editing. Multi-track and multi-channel are NOT the same!
Sony’s multi-channel editing has some of the features of multi-track editing but lacks some of the more crucial ones. The primary application is for surround sound recording and playback and for court recording and transcription services. That makes it a good candidate for radio stations looking to include surround sound in their HD broadcasting.
SF’s record interface has been redesigned to permit recording of up to 32 channels.
You can apply individual DirectX and VST plug-ins to any combination of multi-channels -- with some notable exceptions. Some plug-ins can be applied to more than two channels while others cannot. About the only way of determining this is by trial and error.
However, it is NOT possible to access the individual volume or other automatable envelopes per individual channel in the multi-channel editing mode. For example, you can change the volume for an entire individual channel, but you cannot raise or lower it incrementally along the time line.
While this limits the usefulness of the multi-channel format, it is consistent with the intent of the program to provide a platform for surround sound applications. And it is possible to drag an individual channel to a single mono or stereo file and there make changes to the automation envelopes and then paste it back to its original
track in the multi-channel editor.
Nor is it possible to “slide” the individual tracks along the time line in relation to each other. Each channel in the SF 9.0’s multi-track editor is firmly fixed in place. It cannot be moved.
The inability to alter the individual automation envelopes of each channel and the inability to individually slide channels around in relation to each other limits the ability to use this software in a traditional multi-track manner. Sony is open about this. Thus if you need true multi-track editing, you would be better served by choosing an editor that is designed specifically to support multi-track editing such as Sony’s Vegas or Adobe Audition 2.0.
Sony has modified the Channel Converter located in the Process Menu to accommodate the mix down from multi-channel to two track stereo or mono.
One of the new features of SF 9.0 is the addition of a “wet/dry mix” option. This is an additional box that can be opened when using a DirectX or VST plug-in.
If you have used reverb plug-ins, you are probably familiar with the feature as most reverb software includes the ability to mix the original unprocessed sound with the sound after it has been processed by the reverb. Essentially Sony has applied this concept to virtually ALL of the plug-ins used by SF 9.0.
It allows for a much improved tweaking of the sound in ways that weren’t possible before. The feature is not available in the Plug-In Chainer and I hope that Sony will consider making the feature operational in that mode in the next version of SF.
SF 9.0 has added “hardware meters”. The hardware meters window includes not only traditional VU meters that can be adjusted in various ways, but also includes controls for adjusting the output level of the individual channels and a phase scope and mono compatibility meter.
The phase scope can display the signal in one of four ways: 1. Lissajous -- XY Plot; 2. Lissajous-Rotated; 3. Polar-- Linear Plot; and 4. Polar-- Circular Plot. The mono compatibility meter indicates whether or not phase cancellations between channels might cause phasing problems when down mixing to mono.
What I especially like is the totality of information that the Hardware Meter window provides when all three (VU meter, phase scope and mono compatibility meter) of the functions are selected. This provides an easy means of keeping track of important information that you need to know when you are working with multi-channel material.
Sony has updated the SF 9.0 Spectrum Analysis window to include an individual display window for as many multi-channels as you are using. Spectrum analysis can be a valuable means of evaluating your sound and of locating problems that may need attention.
However, my personal opinion is that Sony lags behind in the area of spectrum analysis support. Adobe Audition added spectrum analysis editing tools as early as version 1.5 and improved them in version 2.0 that has been out for more than a year. SF 9.0 has no tools for editing in the spectrum analysis mode.
SF 9.0 includes a “Mastering Effects Bundle” licensed from iZotope, Inc. The plug-ins are based on the iZotope Ozone 3 package and include 1. Multiband Compressor, 2. Mastering EQ, 3. Mastering Reverb and 4. IRC Limiter.
IZotope has a reputation for producing quality software plug-ins that are easy to use with excellent sound quality based on 64 bit internal processing. The four plug-ins included in SF 9.0 continue that tradition. My personal favorite is the Multiband Compressor that enables you to control the dynamic range of the audio over four user selectable frequency bands. Because the plug-in includes plenty of presets, I found I could use it without a long learning curve
I like the iZotope mastering bundle and expect to use it in the digital audio work that I do. The only downside is that because of licensing restrictions with iZotope, the bundle shows up only in SF 9.0. I would like to be able to use the plug-ins with other audio editors that I use but can’t because of this limitation. Sony says that it plans to make the bundle accessible in its other Sony Creative Software products when new versions are released.
SF 9.0 includes CD Architect 5.0. Back in the 90’s, Sonic Foundry introduced CD Architect to handle the tasks associated with producing and burning audio CD’s from WAV files. From the very beginning CD Architect has been held in high regard by audio professionals.
CD Architect 5.0 remains unchanged from its initial release back in 2003, but so have audio CD’s.
For the first time, Sony is including its Noise Reduction 2.0 digital audio restoration package with every purchase of SF 9.0. I have used NR 2.0 since it was released in 1999. At the time it provided remarkable quality in a package of plug-ins that removed both pops and clicks and broad band noise.
I still have a high regard for NR 2.0 and continue to use it in my work along with other newer products. At the same time, eight years is a very long time to continue a product without an update. Those of us who have been using NR 2.0 for the past eight years are waiting for Sony to come up with an update or a totally new noise reduction package.
If you don’t already have noise reduction software, the Sony NR 2.0 bundle is an excellent high quality restoration package that can produce good sounding results
Sony has improved their ASIO sound card drivers in SF 9.0 to provide lower latency and better overall performance. The new driver performed well with my RME Hammerfall DSP 9632 sound card but locked up the program when set for my WaveTerminal 192X sound card. Sony indicates that a fix is coming.
Unlike the ubiquitous tape recorder, Sound Forge has come along way since the early 90’s and the current version continues the tradition of providing an excellent quality two track digital audio editor with the addition of multi-channel recording and playing that provides the tools needed for producing high definition radio in surround sound.
For a complete run down on all of the new product features and minimum system requirements, go to http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/.
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Sony Creative Software
Sound Forge 9.0a
Digital Audio Editing Software
Upgrade From Previous Version: $149.95
Multi-Channel Editing up to 32 channels
Includes Noise Reduction 2.0
Includes CD Architect 5.0
Includes iZotope Mastering Plug-Ins
New Hardware meters include mono monitoring
Fully Compatible with Windows Vista operating system
Multi-Channel editing not as flexible as true multi-tracking editing software
Lacks tools for editing in the frequency domain
Some occasional instability that causes the program to crash
Sony Creative Software 1617 Sherman Ave., Madison, WI 53704 608.204.7680
Read Burgan is a free lance writer and a former public radio station manager specializing in digital audio restoration who can be reached at (906) 296-0652 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org