Steinberg WaveLab 40

WaveLab 4.0 ($599) from Germany's Steinberg is intended for music production, multimedia authoring and editing, broadcast production and sound design for samplers. It does not disappoint in its quest, adding a considerable roster of tools to an already outstanding digital audio editor.
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WaveLab 4.0 ($599) from Germany's Steinberg is intended for music production, multimedia authoring and editing, broadcast production and sound design for samplers. It does not disappoint in its quest, adding a considerable roster of tools to an already outstanding digital audio editor.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, broadcast production, post production

Key Features: Multitrack waveform editor and mixer; VST-compatible; CD burning; up to 192 kHz; Apogee UV22 dithering

Price: $599

Contact: Steinberg at 818-678-5100, Web Site

Plus

+ All-inclusive editor/multitrack/CD creator labeler

+ High-quality VST plug-ins

+ Easy to use

+ Installs effortlessly

Minus

- Does not save to Real Audio or Ogg Vorbis formats

The Score: All-in-one, easy to use DAW system.
Features

An improved mastering section and several high-quality virtual effect processors lead the list, along with an entire suite of CD burning, copying and labeling tools. There is a fine palette of audio analysis tools as well, such as a phase "scope," FFT meter and a spectrum analyzer. All this along with one of the most serious GUIs out there.

Indeed, to my eye, WaveLab always had a button-down, get-down-to-business look about it that other editors shied away from. Blue waveforms take to the screen against graduated silvery track spaces with spartan polished appearances.

WaveLab 4.0 supports audio interfaces with MME, WDM and ASIO drivers and handles sample rates up to 192 kHz/32-bit (floating), should you desire such precision.

According to company literature, WaveLab can run on a minimum Pentium II 200 MHz or AMD K7 machine with 128 MB RAM. In my opinion, quintuple that requirement and spring for a P-IV machine with 1 GHz or better clock speed. Screen redraws and calculations are performed better, more tracks can be played back with no dropouts, and the analysis tools work much faster too. One of my test machines, a PII 333, crashed several times trying to keep up with the demands WaveLab placed on it.

In Use

Installation is a five-minute process, if that. Following installation, WaveLab is ready to run after the CD-ROM is inserted again at first startup. According to the manual, the program will occasionally request the disc as a form of copy protection. Otherwise, you are good to go.

As in other audio editors, the majority of your work is done in two views: the Wave window, which isolates single audio files for edit operations, and the Audio Montage window, where multitrack assembly and editing is done.

Perform your recording in either view. In the Wave window, hitting the Record icon in the control bar brings up a prompt asking for file name, properties and a slew of options including auto-stop record and auto-create markers at silent points. A sensitive VU meter also comes up (which may indicate just how noisy your soundcard really is!), along with a disk capacity marker showing how much recording time remains on a drive.

Editing in the Wave window is extensive, including all the necessary functions of cut, paste, copy, trim, Insert Silence and others. WaveLab follows the Windows convention of CTRL-X, C and V for cut, copy and paste functions, but adds in ALT and SHIFT commands for more particular items.

Applying processing to a single file is much like it is in editors such as Syntrillium's Cool Edit or Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge, although the menu appears smaller. Pull down the Process menu item to apply pitch changes, compression/expansion, normalization, reversal and fades. Other tricks such as reverb, flanging, denoising and declicking must be applied in the mastering section - the heart of the WaveLab "real time engine" and the last stop along the signal path - before committing the audio back to the hard drive.

Multitrack editing and assembly has come a long way since the early days of "drop it in and hope for the best." With features such as Magnetic bounds to snap audio clips (small segments of edited audio along each track) in place, drawn audio envelopes for panning and volume, and auto-grouping multiple clips for simultaneous dragging, editing in the WaveLab Montage is speedy and efficient.

A big plus in the Montage view is the ability to attach different processing to clips placed in a single track. Unlike earlier programs such as IQS SAW, where a plugged-in effect affected an entire track, up to 10 VST effects can instead be applied to a single clip. Each clip can have entirely different processing applied to it, all in the same track.

Crossfades can be done by overlapping two clips on the same track. Crossfade options and fade times are editable.

Broadcasters who must produce commercials and promotional announcements will appreciate the automatic ducking feature, which lets a clip on one track dip the volume on an adjacent track. For quick mixing of music with a voiceover, this is quite the timesaver.

Audio files and mixdowns are saved in a number of formats, including standard WAV and AIF files, MP3, Windows Media WMA and the Steinberg proprietary OSQ compressed file. Absent is the Real Media format as found in Sound Forge, and the open source Ogg Vorbis compression format.

The mastering section, with its multiband compressor and mastering EQ, assure a clean and polished final product. Eight effect processing slots can be filled with the tools needed for the job, a pair of linkable master faders ride gain on the entire project, and the dithering plug-in may save the day when moving from a 24-bit file down to a 16-bit CD. The plug-in can be the stock WaveLab algorithm or the popular Apogee UV22HR algorithm.

Having built-in CD creation tools at one's disposal is handy, as you need not turn off one program just to launch a CD burner once, then a label maker second.

If your experience begins and ends with the simple CD burning software packaged with aftermarket drives, be prepared for a new layer of versatility and complexity. WaveLab lets you record audio discs, data, CD-Extra and Mixed Mode CDs (the latter combining computer data and audio on one disc). You may specify pause length between tracks other than the Red Book standard of two seconds and define sub-index markers to cue directly to specific points within a track (seen frequently on sound effect CDs).

Running a CD burning session is not a simple click-and-go. Be prepared to cook a coaster at least once in discovering your optimum settings.

Summary

WaveLab is a powerful audio editor for broadcast production, buffing up audio tracks and events for video editing, and fine-quality mastering of your CD projects. This is likely not the package for you if you are doing a studio recording of a band and need to record several tracks simultaneously. The manual even says so.

I had a slight problem with my display showing the small knobs on the VST plug-ins, but my CRT was cranked up to 1152 X 864 resolution. Cutting back to a typical 1024 X 768 may save some eye.

It is also a pleasure to use Steinberg VST effect processing in an editing program actually designed for them without having to use a converter plug-in. While such a utility is handy in other non-Steinberg editor programs, results are occasionally spotty and even unusable.

Remember, too, that WaveLab can handle sample rates up to 192 kHz. If your audio interface is up to the task, go for it.

There is no shortage of PC-based audio editors these days, and even though your first impression might be to jump directly towards Cool Edit Pro, Magix Samplitude or the Windows version of Digidesign Pro Tools, take a look at WaveLab. Steinberg already set MIDI music and music mixing on its ear with Cubase SX and Nuendo, so it may be worth your while to see what the company can do for your audio editing needs.