A Sonic Foundry multitracker has been a desired product since the release of Sound Forge. Rumors of an actual product in development floated around for about a year before Vegas Pro ($599) was released.
Product PointsApplications: Audio production; studio, post
Key Features: 24/96; video tie-ins; real time resampling; scrubbing
Contact: Sonic Foundry at 800-577-6642
Vegas Pro is a very sophisticated, full-featured system that works fine as a standalone and even better in conjunction with Sound Forge. For current Sound Forge users, it offers what no other multitracker can – full integration between the packages with a familiar, shared interface. For users looking to start from the ground up, Vegas Pro will serve most of the needs of building a digital production setup under the Windows OS. Adding the other Sonic Foundry products makes for a complete solution.
Vegas Pro is a match for most any other software-only multitracker on the market and comes with a few innovations that competitors will soon want to add to their own multitrackers. For the most part, Vegas is scalable to the limits of your hardware’s capacity. As a software-based solution (it does not rely on hardware DSPs) it supports as much audio processing and as many 24-bit/96 kHz tracks as your computer’s hard drive and RAM can carry.
The real issue for the ability to handle tracks in real time is hard drive access speed. Minimal system requirement calls for a Pentium 200 with an IDE hard drive. Each stereo 24/96 track takes up a bit more than a half a MBps. Though UDMA drives claim 33 MBps as the top transfer rate, that is the burst rate. Sustained data transfer rates are considerably slower. A minimal system like a P200 handles about four 24/96 tracks glitch-free and about a dozen 16-bit/44.1 kHz tracks.
My tests were on a Windows NT Pentium II 400 (128 MB of RAM) with a Seagate Cheetah 10,000 rpm Ultra2 SCSI hard drive that could carry 48 tracks of 16-bit/44.1 kHz audio. It can probably take more but I stopped adding tracks before developing a repetitive stress injury. Even so, adding additional SCSI drives increases the Ultra2’s 26 MBps sustained data transfer rate.
The other part of the capacity equation is the CPU. If you plan on making use of the four-band EQ and compressor inserts (Vegas supports this on every track) while adding DirectX plug-ins, that takes a good deal of processing power when multiplied across many tracks. Working under Windows NT helps. Vegas Pro supports dual processors under this true 32-bit OS. It has MIDI timecode synchronization, video editing tie-ins (for multimedia producers) and it can support dual monitors.
When I learned digital editing, one of the first things done was to establish a house sample rate for recording – mixing and matching audio recorded at different sample rates just got you a mess.
Typically in the past, playback defaulted to the lower sampling rate. Listening to a 48 kHz cut at 44.1 kHz sounds off-speed (for those who still remember vinyl, this is like playing a 45 rpm single at 33 rpm). Here, you can throw together clips at different sampling rates and from several different file formats. Vegas Pro worked seamlessly with WAV files on one track and MP3 files on others. It handles a zoo full of file formats including AIF, AVE, ASF and WMA. So if you want to toss in a strange soundfile from the Web into some witch’s brew mix, it does not have to be translated to the house file format/sampling rate.
Scrubbing has always been an issue with digital production. Vegas Pro has a simple scrub switch that can change the playback from +2x to -2x speed. It does not have quite the feel of taking the reels in your hands, but does manage to get closer to the way traditionalists like to work.
Most of the latest multitrackers share many of the same functions and features.
But the names for these and how they are laid out define the actual functionality and ease-of-use: Vegas Pro looks a lot like
Sound Forge. The zoom-in, zoom-out buttons are the same along with the close adherence to Windows conventions. It is not intuitive, but I was able to find my way around without having to memorize the manual. After flipping through a few pages to see what was what, I felt comfortable enough to get to work.
There are three key windows to the interface: the track view, the mixer and the trimmer. The trimmer gives a picture of the soundfile so it can be spliced. The cut is then dropped and dragged to the track. Unlike some systems, the track view retains the picture of the soundfile. When matching up different cuts (which are called events), you do not have to look at a blank region and guess where the breaks are. This is a big plus and certainly saves a lot of time.
Another terrific feature is the autocrossfade. Other systems make you do a crossfade by putting the cuts on separate tracks, running them over each other and dropping/raising levels accordingly. Getting this to flow smoothly can be an arduous process. Here, you can keep the cuts on the same track and drop and drag to superimpose them on each other. Vegas Pro automatically handles the fade. This one feature could have saved me hours (and much frustration) over the past few years.
Vegas Pro goes for $599. Serious producers will want to spend a few hundred dollars more to augment this with Sound Forge’s more extensive audio processing. Add decent soundcards and a major league dual-processor PC and this becomes a serious DAW for just a few thousand dollars.
Such setups will, no doubt, create a legion of enthusiastic users. I am sure that even devoted Pro Tools fanatics will be surprised at what Vegas Pro can accomplish. Taken alone, either system is a winning hand. But which is better when played against the other? Vegas Pro has evened up the odds.