The multichannel recording and editing features of Sound Forge 9.0 won’t have you tossing out your copy of Vegas or Audition. Nor is the new Forge as flexible in multichannel mode as say, Wavelab, whose Montage function allows elements on tracks 3 and up to be slid and shuffled easily against tracks 1 and 2. No, it’s primarily designed for surround work, and allows simultaneous recording of up to thirty-two tracks, provided of course that your audio interface supports that many independent tracks.
The new tracks are not just tacked on to the original stereo display. Instead, you choose how many tracks your project will have when you first create it by selecting the surround format you want to use. Choices include mono, stereo, 2.1, quad, 5.1, and 7.1, although you can enter any number up to 32. Be aware that once a number of channels is chosen, you cannot add additional channels (or tracks) to your project. Further, all multichannel projects consist of stereo tracks, and you have to assign each of the stereo tracks to a pair of outputs. This means that if you record in mono to one of the two tracks, you’ll only hear it in one side if you’re monitoring in stereo. You can, however, make the mono track appear in both channels of your bounce (more on that later).
Since very little of my work is in proper surround, I decided to use this facility to create a multitrack project in my normal style, where VO is on track one, music is on track two, and track three holds a few sound effects. The first thing I noticed was that editing functions work on all tracks by default. If you select a region to cut, it’ll select that region across all three stereo tracks. To edit on only the first stereo track, you have to highlight both channels of that track by clicking on track number one, then holding the shift key and clicking on track number two. This is inconvenient, but I can deal.
The second thing I noticed is that you can move regions between tracks by simply clicking and pulling the region up or down to the destination track. However, if you want to move a region to another point on the same track, you have to first pull the region up or down to “separate” it, then move it back to the original track and drop it in its new location. When you do, you get the dialog box with all the options for moving or replacing the audio. If you leave the Source fader at 100% and the Destination fader at 0%, Forge will replace the source with the destination. If you change the Destination fader to 100%, you’ll end up with a 50/50 mix of the source sound and the destination sound. Other controls here let you fade the source in or out in a manner you choose, and there’s a Preview button to let you hear how the result will sound before you commit. It’s awkward, but workable.
When you’re done with your project (and assuming you’re not working in true surround), you’ll want to convert the result to a stereo file. The Channel Converter has been updated in Forge 9 for exactly this purpose. You set the number of output channels you want (usually two), and a spreadsheet below that menu shows you your physical output on the vertical axis, and your source channels on the horizontal. Clicking in each cell of the spreadsheet activates a fader that allows you to set the relative volume of that source channel that will appear in the output file, calibrated in both dB and percent of full scale. This serves as a non-automatable mixer for your final output. (If you want to vary the volume of a track over time you’ll need to use Forge’s familiar Envelope function to create a graphic of level over time.) There’s a Preview button that will play the resulting file so you can adjust things before bouncing them.
Pressing the OK button performs the conversion, and shows you a new stereo file mixed according to the settings in the Channel Converter. There’s no provision here for avoiding clipping — you’ll have to remember that you’re adding audio, and that each channel should be reduced by 3dB times the number of channels you’re mixing to avoid clipping. Fortunately there are presets in the Channel Converter that make this easier — applying the 5.1 to Stereo preset and adjusting that as needed will work just fine, and I ended up making a preset to convert my six-channel mix to stereo without clipping.
The Spectrum Analysis function in Sound Forge 9 has been updated to work properly with multichannel files as well. I’ve never been a big fan of this function, since there’s no good way to edit a file spectrally in Forge, but it does provide a good sanity check when things sound wrong in the EQ domain. Also updated for multichannel are the Hardware Meters, which also let you set preview and output levels. Finally, you can add a Phase Scope and Mono Compatibility meter to your Channel Meters, which provide valuable information.
There are general enhancements here as well. For example, the snapping functions are greatly improved, making it much easier to place the cursor on a region or marker boundary. Even better, all processing and effect dialogs have a new section at the bottom that includes boxes to change the start, end, and length of the selection to be processed, as well as wet/dry settings and fade-in and -out settings. The latter even have presets for equal power fades, equal gain fades, and combination fades. These provide a great deal of control and are quite handy.