Like Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, I kind of get misty-eyed recalling the early days of Acid (the program): “Aye, in those days we were lucky it did 4/4!”
Product PointsApplications: Studio, live sound, post production
Key Features: ReWire support; native VST, VSTi support; Folder tracks; Media Manager; groove mapping; Native Instruments Xpress soft synths (B4, Pro53, FM7), 1000+ free loops
Contact: Sony at 800-686-7669 Web Site.
The first version of Acid was a streamlined, single-minded brute of an application that stormed in, winning over legions of fans with its rudimentary-yet-revolutionary approach to music creation. It introduced the ability to seamlessly adjust the tempo and even key of audio loops/samples in real time – all on a PC.
Through the years, Acid has expanded to include not only the basics of arranging such as MIDI support, tempo maps, odd time signatures and key changes, but also a host of effects, mixing and integration features. Along with added features, Acid also suffered the typical software growing pains of an increasingly cluttered user interface, weakened stability and, perhaps, a loss of focus.
In Acid Pro 5 ($399) Sony addresses these issues with major new organizational/layout tools and improved operational stability, while simultaneously enhancing its real-world integration and editing capabilities. Sony ups the ante by also throwing in three useful VSTi soft synth modules from Native Instruments.
A complete list of features and specifications for Acid can be found on the Sony Media Software website (www.sony.com/mediasoftware). This article concentrates on the new features found in Acid Pro 5.
Topping the most-anticipated list for many pro users is full ReWire support. As a ReWire 1.0 device (client), Acid projects can be streamed live and in-sync to any other applications supporting operation as a ReWire mixer (host). Alternatively, Acid can also act a ReWire 2.0 host, mixing incoming audio with the current project.
Of equal importance is the native support of VST plug-ins and multiport VSTi soft synths. VST support in Acid includes parameter automation and tempo mapping. Acid Pro 5 also improves its DirectX plug-in support by adding tempo-controlled parameters to its modulation- and delay-based effects.
On the organizational front, Acid Pro 5 adds a powerful Media Manager for the cataloguing of loop libraries. Based on Microsoft’s SQL Server Desktop Edition, the Media Manager intelligently integrates Acid with your existing loop collections and allows cross searching on multiple attributes such as instrument, genre, tempo or mood. Loops from Sony’s 130+ sample discs (available separately) are automatically identified and catalogued, while custom loop collections can be logged using drag-and-drop tags.
Acid now conforms to the same customizable interface features as Sony’s video applications, Vegas and DVD Architect. Multiple windows can be broken out of the interface, docked together or dropped on top of each other to create a tabbed set of windows.
Acid Pro 5 borrows a page from other audio applications, adding nestable folders for organizing (and hiding) tracks on the timeline. Drag-and-drop preset and plug-in managers are included to efficiently work with our ever-growing collections.
Enhancing its already excellent looping support are 19 new user-definable time stretch modes, real-time reverse audio playback and a comprehensive groove mapping interface.
Also new to Acid Pro 5 is bus-to-bus routing, surround downmix monitoring, a project metronome and disc-at-once CD burning.
For me, Acid has always been a treasured application, uniquely enhancing my palette of audio authoring and mixing tools. No other dedicated (or integrated) looping interface handles time stretching and looping as quickly and as elegantly.
As it has evolved in tandem with my ever-expanding studio setup, Acid has increasingly become isolated – a standalone application to run to, perform its magic and export the results to my main applications.
On numerous projects, I use Acid to lay down the basic structure of a piece, add basic instrumentation and lock in on the tempo. In fact, the ability to have the form down and then find the ideal tempo is one of Acid’s top strengths. The tracks are then exported as separate rendered WAV files to be brought into Nuendo for processing, fine tuning and subsequent live tracking. Though many times I have wanted to, rarely will I ever return to Acid once the initial audio has left the program.
This brings me to my favorite new feature: full ReWire support. I now can run the original Acid file in tandem with Nuendo, allowing me to quickly and easily update large quantities of looped tracks without the hassle of editing rendered audio tracks or doing the export/import dance.
While not necessarily glamorous or exciting, the other biggest improvements in Acid Pro 5 for me are the ones related to organization and layout. Conforming the Acid interface to the style of Vegas and DVD Architect is a major plus, not just because I am already familiar with it, but also because it is a darn good implementation – one that is sure to be nicked by substantially more expensive applications. But that’s OK, Acid has also borrowed from the best of them, and the results are to our benefit. The flexible layout is a real boon for those with multiple monitors.
One welcome new feature in Acid originally found (I believe) in Nuendo/Cubase and later in Sonar is folder tracks. Even more so than the other programs, folder tracks are a necessity in Acid and I couldn’t be happier that they have been incorporated in the interface.
Acid has a one-loop/one-track timeline, which is integral to its ease of use. The downside is that the number of tracks in a typical project can approach 40 to 50 in short order. Folder tracks allow the grouping and hiding of any number of related tracks in folders. Unfortunately, unlike the other programs, trim/expand editing operations cannot be done directly on a folder track, though the editing of clusters (overlapping events within a folder displayed only when the folder is collapsed) allows easy cut/copy/paste operations across multiple tracks.
Folder tracks also provide much-needed grouping functions in Acid. Groups of samples and alternate arrangements can be auditioned in the project by muting or soloing folder tracks.
The Media Manager was an unexpected bonus. Though installing the SQL Server interface added some bloat to my Windows installation (and RAM usage), my system has suffered no noticeable ill effects. And with over 16GB of Acid samples and another 10GB of original samples and loops (not to mention the sound effects collections) on my hard disks, I anticipate exploiting the Media Manager to the fullest.
Thankfully, Sony includes a database of its available discs, so the 16GB of licensed Acid loops were automatically recognized catalogued, though some personalization is still required. Despite the drag-and-drop simplicity of the interface, completely organizing the sheer volume of sound effects and original content will take some time.
There are several much-requested features notably missing from Acid Pro 5. Most devastating is the lack of support for external hardware controllers. This will not be possible to change until real-time parameter automation is added to the program. MIDI implementation is much improved but still limited. With its ReWire implementation, however, MIDI support in Acid is no longer an issue for me.
As its VST native support is brand new (and extremely welcome!), and one cannot expect everything all at once, a “freeze” function would certainly be a great feature for the next release. Though, again, with ReWire I suppose even that’s not an issue.
“The Return of the King” may not be an entirely applicable phrase, since Acid didn’t really go away; though after using it on several projects, I am similarly excited about the possibilities for Acid Pro 5 as I was when Acid was introduced in 1998.
Sony Media Software has done a highly admirable job of bringing a unique and much-loved application into the professional production arena.