Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 60

Sound Forge 5.0 fans will find Version 6 familiar. Commands, menus and screens are similar and both can coexist on the system until you are comfortable. Newcomers will be editing quickly too, because Sound Forge 6 is intuitive; if you are comfortable with Windows, you will have no difficulty using Sound Forge.
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Sound Forge 5.0 fans will find Version 6 familiar. Commands, menus and screens are similar and both can coexist on the system until you are comfortable. Newcomers will be editing quickly too, because Sound Forge 6 is intuitive; if you are comfortable with Windows, you will have no difficulty using Sound Forge.
Product PointsApplications: Primarily stereo digital-audio editing

Key Features: Fast nondestructive editing; 24:1 time-axis magnification; support for 32-bit/192 kHz data and 4+ GB files; crash-proof operation; numerous DirectX plug-ins including Sonic Foundry's Acoustic Mirror and Wave Hammer

Price: $499 retail, $349 direct download from Sonic Foundry website

Contact: Sonic Foundry at 800-577-6642 or 608-256-3133, Web Site.
Features

So, what is new in Version 6? Not all that much! It's how well and how fast 6.0 does its thing that's new. Example: 6.0 edits nondestructively so you need not wait to process one instruction before entering another. Moves and deletes are instantaneous and unlimited undos are possible if the history is maintained. Cut lists, redo/undo history, etc. are saved with the file so projects can be closed and reopened; even if the computer crashes, nothing is lost.

Version 6 is "multitasking" and processes in the background when new files are opened. It also handles DirectX plug-ins more efficiently thanks to an improved chainer. You can preview plug-ins on different sections of a file by repositioning the cursor, opening the chainer from the playbar and docking its window where you want. Version 6 sports a new Explorer-style Plug-In Manager to assemble chains and serve as an area from which plug-ins can be dragged and dropped.

Sound Forge 6 windows "float" and can be opened, closed, docked and stacked as desired. When you stack menus, name tabs appear so the desired one can be placed on top. There is a new playbar, but more important, Version 6 now supports 32-bit/192 kHz audio and handles files larger than 4 GB. Recording 32/192 requires a 32-bit/192 kHz interface, and support for 4+ GB files presumes use of the NTFS file system.

Although Sound Forge 6 is primarily a stereo editor, it opens QuickTime, MPEG and Windows Media video files and saves them to other formats. (An MPEG plug-in is needed to support MPEG 1 and 2.) It also includes a batch converter (to apply the same process across multiple files and convert formats) and a lite version of Vegas Video.

Most important to many of us is Version 6's ability to edit audio with greater precision. Time axes can be zoomed to 24:1 (24 pixels per sample) which makes fixing glitches with the Pencil really easy! And, you can now set up two custom zooms and toggle with the 1 and 2 keys on the numeric pad. You also can zoom with the mouse wheel: rolling zooms the horizontal; holding CTRL while rolling zooms the vertical.

There are multiple ways of doing almost everything - point and click, menus, keyboard shortcuts, etc. - but when you get down to it, Sound Forge is designed to mark regions of a file so they can be cut, moved, replicated and/or pasted. Start and end points can be marked on-the-fly or entered numerically if the time, sample or frame is known. You can move start and end points by dragging markers or editing time/sample/frame data. When you drop a marker, Sound Forge can snap to the nearest axis crossing (positive-going, negative-going or nearest) or snap to whole time divisions.

It can edit mono and stereo and convert between them. Basic mono-to-stereo conversion copies the same info into each channel with an independent choice of level. Acoustic Mirror (more about this later) "creates" stereo from mono and is much more effective. Sound Forge can alter sample rate and bit depth. When reducing bit depth, it offers a choice of dither (none, rectangular, triangular, high-pass triangular, Gaussian) and noise shaping (none, high-pass, equal-loudness). When resampling, you can choose rates from 2,000 to 192,000 samples/sec and activate an appropriate anti-aliasing filter. With a fast computer, you can preview in real-time with maximum accuracy, although the resampler permits you to sacrifice preview accuracy if your computer cannot keep up; you can then process in non-real-time with full accuracy.

Sound Forge permits automatic or manual adjustment of DC offset when recording from a soundcard or editing files with a DC component. It comes with 35 effects and all XFX 1, 2 and 3 plug-ins including graphic, paragraphic and parametric equalizers. You can fade with various tapers or draw your own for Sound Forge to follow. You can insert silence, mute the region, flip polarity, reverse playback, adjust volume or normalize level on an rms or peak basis.

To normalize, you can use Scan-Level to measure the region's peak and rms levels and reset either with a slider. (Holding both mouse buttons while adjusting a slider increases resolution for precise adjustment.) Sound Forge also has four preset normalizing modes to maximize peak value, normalize rms to -10 dB (speech), normalize rms to -16 dB (music) and, normalize rms to -6 dB (very loud). If normalization causes clipping, Sound Forge can apply dynamic compression, normalize the peaks to 0, let the system saturate or quit. Sound Forge's Pan/Expand contracts or expands a stereo image and offers mid/side decoding to convert M/S data to stereo.

SF plug-ins appear in the Process or Effects pull-downs and in a subdirectory of DX Favorites. Included are amplitude-modulation, chorus, delay/echo (multitap or simple), distortion-generation (several presets), dynamic-controller (graphic or multi-band), envelope, flange/wah-wah, gapper/snipper, noise-gate, pitch-control, reverb (numerous presets) and vibrato modules. Also included are two SoundForge exclusives: Acoustic Mirror and Wave Hammer.

Wave Hammer is a compressor/volume maximizer with threshold, compression, output gain, and attack and release-time sliders. A Smart-Release slider instructs the compressor to increase release time for sustained notes and decrease it on transients; the Auto Gain box instructs Wave Hammer to automatically adjust output gain as a function of threshold and ratio settings.

You can trigger compression based on peak or RMS levels and check "Use Longer Look-Ahead" to have Wave Hammer scan further ahead to determine the compression ratio. That permits use of slower attack times, albeit with a risk of compressing before attacks. Checking "Smooth Saturation" reduces distortion during compression. Stereo meters indicate input or output level; a third array monitors attenuation.

Acoustic Mirror overlays the sonic signature of a space or device by convolving its impulse response with the music, a process that requires lots of math! Powerful CPUs strut their stuff when previewing this effect, and previewing is essential to decide among the huge number of signatures available: everything from the Myerson Symphony Center, to classic Shure microphones, to funky environments like the bathroom of Bedford Industries! For game players and headphone users, MIT Media Lab HRTFs (Head Related Transfer Functions) "place" sounds above, behind or around the listener. If no signature suits (unlikely!), you can capture that of any venue using signals supplied on the CD.

Among its tools, Sound Forge offers a crossfader, sampler, synthesizer (simple, FM, DTMF/MF), spectrum analyzer with choice of windows (Blackman-Harris, Hamming, Hanning, Rectangular, Triangular), overlap, FFT size (to 65,536 points), range (96 kHz max) and display (sonogram or amplitude vs. frequency).

In Use

I installed Sound Forge 6.0 in a Dell 1.8 GHz Pentium IV system with 512 MB RAM and 7200-rpm hard drive. Version 5 was already on and functioned fine after installing 6.0. Installation went off without a glitch and I updated to 6.0a by modem before setting to work.

When dropping markers with Snap-to-Axis enabled, Sound Forge gets close but rarely chooses optimally, so I usually zoom and tweak by hand. The 24:1 zoom really helps; I would buy 6.0 for that alone!

Real-time preview with reduced accuracy is generally possible for conversions, effects, etc., but Sound Forge's algorithms seem pretty efficient. No single effect taxed my (admittedly fast) processor more than a few percent at maximum quality, so I was able to stack whatever I needed and run in real-time.

Sound Forge can time-stretch without changing pitch and change pitch with or without changing duration. You have a choice of algorithms to time stretch or change pitch without changing duration, and previewing is real helpful. I managed to raise pitch a semitone (G-minor to Ab-minor) with good results if I did not try to maintain duration. Shifting pitch while maintaining duration or time stretching without altering pitch is far dicier!

Summary

Sound Forge 6.0 offers a lot for the money. It edits stereo files accurately, rapidly and unerringly. It is easy to use and comes with lots of effects and plug-ins. It handles video (although a full Vegas package would suit audio/video editors better) and interfaces with ACID. Its new Preset Manager is self-standing and handles ACID and Vegas presets too. Sound Forge 6.0 is a great program that I recommend highly. (I also recommend you shell out $29.95 and buy a printed manual from eNovel.) It is weird that Sound Forge 6.0 still cannot burn Disc-at-Once (only Track-at-Once), but Easy CD Creator seems to come with every burner sold so it is not a real problem... just weird!