Test Drive: SAWStudioBasic from RML Labs

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THE MIXER

The SAW mixer is a full-blown digital mixing console, allowing control over 24 mono or stereo inputs and up to 16 separate outputs. Each channel comes complete with five bands of fully-parametric Q, a low and high cut filter, a gate and a compressor, six aux sends, both pre- and post-fader inserts, and even a surround panner. Every function on the mixer is, of course, totally automated. Clicking on the Automation button in the upper right corner of the MultiTrack window gets you started.

The mixer is by far the quickest way to deal with some problems, including some that you’d fix in the editor on other workstations. For example, to remove a breath or mouth noise in Pro Tools I normally select the noise in the waveform view, switch to the volume automation graph view for that track, then use the Trimmer tool to pull the volume down and switch back to the waveform view for further editing. In SAW it’s actually a bit faster, as I just select the noise in the waveform view, hit the “a” key to fire up automation, pull the fader down and hit “a” again to turn automation off.

Now it’s true that I could perform similar steps in Pro Tools and achieve the same results, but it just seems pokier. Maybe it’s the instantaneous screen redraw that makes it all seem that much faster, I dunno. But it’s all very, very quick, particularly when you get familiar with keystrokes.

Fades can be accomplished in a similar manner... in fact simply selecting a region and pressing the “f” key creates a fade-out using automation. Pressing “shift-f” creates a fade-in, and both of these processes respect any existing fader levels, allowing you to create a smooth fade between two abrupt level changes.

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EFFECTS, BUSSES, AND LIBRARY

SAW comes with but two effects plug-ins of its own — a nice little six-band graphic equalizer and a stereo delay. But it can use any DX or VST format plug-in effect, and in fact the program automatically found all of my DX effects from my installed copy of Acid Pro 4. As mentioned, each channel has six aux sends, and of course there are six aux returns in the console to go with them. Each send has level and pan, and switches to make it either pre- or post-fader and pre- or post-insert.

I borrowed an RME sound card with eight AES inputs and outputs for a portion of the evaluation period, and was pleasantly surprised at how well SAW worked with that bit of hardware. The auxes made it a simple matter to send a track out to an external reverb or compressor and bring it back in again, and the amount of latency involved in doing so was quite low. That is to say, I perceived no delay between the dry track and the effected track coming back via the aux return, and that’s a condition that afflicts several other editors I use. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of ways to get your sound in and out of SAW, and with good, low-latency hardware it’ll do it quickly.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Library window and import functions in a bit more detail, as it’s one of the more clever implementations I’ve run across. The Library will create a list of all WAV files in any folder you choose, and allows you to audition them by right-clicking. Once you’ve found a clip you like, you can alt-left-click it to grab it, then drag it into a track in the MultiTrack window. Quick and painless, and ideal for shuffling through a CD of sound effects as you’re building a spot.

DOCUMENTATION

SAW has a healthy learning curve, and you’ll want to take advantage of all the instructional and tutorial materials provided. For starters, check out the 14-minute Windows Media video available on www.sawstudio.com. Bob Lentini himself will take you through a highly-caffinated demo of the product and the process. The tutorial is an online affair, with web pages with pictures and text that link to online audio narration files that describe the pictures. It’s quite comprehensive, and going through the tutorial in its entirety took me several two-hour sessions. But it’s pleasant and worthwhile.

Current and past users of the various incarnations of SAW maintain bulletin boards on the web, which are also useful founts of information and tips. One of the best is SAWStudioUser, which can be found at www.sawstudiouser.net. Several developers continue to provide third-party plug-ins for SAW in its native IQS format. A Google search on “SAW” and “software” will turn up quite a few.

Finally the PDF manual weighs in at a hefty 266 pages, with the key commands alone taking up twenty-six of those pages. Print the key commands out, and keep the rest of the manual open on your computer as you begin to work. Until you get into the Zen of SAW, you’ll need the manual.

A SAW IS NOT A HAMMER

I seem to remember having used a version of SAW many moons ago, probably back in the day of Intel 386 processors. I recall it as fast even then, with an interface that was difficult and not pleasant to look at for extended periods. It was also pricey in those days, and there are still high-priced versions available today. SAWStudio weighs in with 72 tracks, 24 stereo outputs, multiple Libraries, and video capabilities at a price of $2,500, and SAWStudioLite gives you half those specs for $1,200. Not exactly radio-friendly.

SAWStudioBasic is still an extremely fast editor, once you’ve gotten over the initial learning hump. And in its native color scheme it still won’t win any design awards. However, RML Labs has a half-dozen skins on its website that are available for free downloading, and they’re a substantial improvement over the native look. Just go get ‘em, and you’ll be happier. And at a price of $300, it’s faster and more capable than several others. The price is right.

Having said all that, and having scaled the initial hump myself, I’m finding it hard to quit working with this program. It continues to unfold as I use it, and I find more ways to work more quickly. The program has not hiccupped on me once during these past several weeks, and I’m finding myself doing edits on it that would be tedious in Pro Tools (my main rig).

I’ve really only touched on the high points in the program here. For example, SAW is capable of being controlled by several MIDI control surfaces, and comes with built-in sample rate conversion software. It also bounces multitrack projects to stereo much faster than real time, something that Pro Tools in unable to do (much to my dismay).

SAWStudioBasic is an impressive software package. Fire it up with an open mind, and you’ll be surprised. Steve sez check it out. And Bob, glad to see you back.

SAWStudioBasic is available direct as a download at a price of $300. For more information worldwide, visit www.sawstudio.com.

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