Computers have transformed music production in the last decade, but Sound Forge has barely changed throughout this time. Despite each release’s new features, its core tools remain consistent, as does its key strength – editing at breakneck speed, and with surgical precision.
Version 9 is business as usual. Top billing on the new features list is a quartet of iZotope plug-ins called the Mastering Effect Bundle. It comprises multiband compression, EQ and brick-wall limiting – the three standard ingredients in a mastering chain – plus reverb. It only simulates rooms and plates and not halls and ambiences, but it might see some use when mastering voice-over work. All four plug-ins have well-conceived interfaces, and we particularly like the limiter’s novel input volume display, giving a useful guide to how much dynamic range you’re losing. For all its graphical niceties, though, inexperienced users are likely to struggle with the multiband compressor, since there’s no documentation available for this inherently complex plug-in.
The quality falls short of processors used in professional mastering studios, but they’re considerably better than the other bundled effects in Sound Forge, or any other stereo editor for that matter.
The biggest change elsewhere is support for surround sound. This comes surprisingly late in the day – the hype having come and gone in the music industry – but it’s a welcome feature for those working in video production. 2.1, quadraphonic, 5.1 and 7.1 formats are supported, and 5.1 mixes can be saved in Dolby Digital format. Channels aren’t clearly labelled, though, and none of the plug-ins – including the bundled Sony ones – can process surround mixes.
Support for up to eight audio channels brings with it a rudimentary form of multitrack editing. It’s easy enough to route each stereo pair to a single pair of speakers, whereby it’s possible to create collages of sounds on different tracks (it can’t handle true multitrack recording, as you can’t monitor existing tracks while recording). Sony appears to have acknowledged this potential, as it’s now possible to insert or delete audio from individual tracks to offset the timing of one against another. This is potentially very useful for sound design tasks, but considerably less so when working with stereo or surround mixes, where you’d lose sync between channels. As such, we’d like to see an option to disable it.
Surround support also brings with it a change in the way the Selection Tool works. Dragging across different parts of the waveform still selects a single or all channels, but how this works is more fiddly than before – now you have to visit the top of the waveform and use the Selection control from there. It took us a while to understand, but it’s a decent system that we’re happy to get used to. It’s also more complex to move both the start and end points of a selection simultaneously, which now involves a new selection marker at the top. Other new features include drag and drop between channels or files, phase- and mono-compatibility meters, comprehensive spectrum analysis and hardware meters with output gain controls – useful when summing multiple channels to a stereo output.
The unsung hero, though, is a wet/dry crossfade option for effects. This is perfect for avoiding abrupt changes when applying effects to a section of an audio file, and opens up some creative opportunities too. Sony’s Noise Reduction 2 plug-in suite is also now included as standard, as is the excellent CD Architect 5.2 application for creating Red Book-compliant audio CDs.
Sound Forge remains an excellent audio editor and its streamlined interface is, as always, its greatest strength. However, for existing users who’ve already invested in third-party mastering plug-ins and who’ve no need for surround sound, there isn’t much compulsion to upgrade – aside from Vista compatibility. It’s disappointing that there’s no spectrum-based Editor (such as the one in Steinberg WaveLab (November 2006, page 89) for example) for making precise frequency-based edits, or any intelligent pitch- and formant-based editing.
For new users, the Mastering Effect Bundle adds significant value to the package and is likely to hold more allure than the impressive but niche WaveLab Spectrum Editor. Sound Forge’s smoother, friendlier operation and lower price mean it remains our top recommendation.
Sony Soundforge 9
By Ben Pitt
Sep 17, 2007 5:35PM
Sep 17, 2007 5:35PM