Test Drive: Adobe Audition for Mac PREVIEW

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by Steve Cunningham

As recently mentioned in this column, the DAW race continues to heat up in the past half-year or so. There are new entries like Cocko’s Reaper, along with new versions old favorites like Pro Tools 9 that are more competitive because they have to be; decoupling PT from its formerly required Avid hardware could only have been a competitive move.

Adobe has made a competitive move of its own. They are in the process of giving some long-time users of Audition that which they have clamored for -- a Macintosh version of Adobe Audition. Rather than release it fully-formed at retail, Adobe has instead decided to turn loose a “beta” version to the general public. It is free, carries no dongle or serial number, and promising in some areas while disappointing in others. Nevertheless, it’s important and worth a preview look-see.

Normally I don’t like to write about software that is not yet ready for retail. The obvious reason is that it is beta software, and can it can be assumed that it has a few bugs as well as design issues that may change in response to those issues. Examples include features that appear or disappear between versions, and the various bugs that need fixing. Having said that, there are a couple of very good reasons for reading this preview before the software is fully cooked, so to speak.

First and foremost is the notion that if those of you who read this actually go and download the software, you may discover features and functions that don’t exist but should along with others that need to change. After all, many of you have used Audition since it was Cool Edit Pro, and Cool Edit before that. You know what works for you, and you have an opportunity to tell Adobe what you need that isn’t yet in there. In doing so you have a chance to make the product better and more suited for your workflow. That’s pretty darned cool.

But what is more important is that the development of Audition for Mac appears to be running in parallel with Adobe Audition 4 for Windows; even the splash screen says it’s version 4. According to Adobe, the two products share a common codebase, which implies two things: First is that this new Mac version acts as something of a preview for the version 4 Windows product; and second, that Adobe intends to develop the two products in parallel going forward. If the company accomplishes the second objective then it may end up garnering a significant share of the Mac market, making it profitable to continue development.

Multitrack

WHAT YOU NEED

The Macintosh version of Audition makes no effort to run on older machines. It wants to see a Mac with a multi-core Intel processor (a Core2 or better), along with OSX 10.5.7 or 10.6.x (that’s Leopard or Snow Leopard to you Windows folks). So anything with a G5 or less is out, and it’s clearly designed to take advantage of Snow Leopard’s feature set. However, Audition is still a 32-bit program, which means it cannot use more than 4 gigabytes of RAM. Adobe says they look forward to developing a 64-bit version in the future, but not today (and I’d assume that will be true for Audition 4 on Win 7 as well). It needs at least one gigabyte of RAM (2+ for HD video work), 2 gigabytes of hard disk, a 1280x800 display, a Core Audio-compatible sound card, and Quicktime 9 which is the default install in Snow Leopard. Those are not ridiculous requirements, but they ain’t foolin’ around, either.


WHAT’S NEW OR DIFFERENT?

Adobe is very upfront about the shared code between Audition Mac and the upcoming Audition 4 for Windows (yes, the names are different at the moment, at least until the marketing crew decides which way they’re going to go with that). They’ve kept the core DSP code from Audition 3, and re-written just about everything else, most notably the UI (user interface). Along the way some features have changed, and some have stayed the same. For example, it is not possible to burn a CD directly from Audition for Mac. Adobe is thinking, correctly I believe, that most music and sound files are shared digitally, reducing the need for CDs. Besides, iTunes does a magnificent job of converting linear wave files to mp3, so why reinvent the wheel?

Since much of what was re-written in Audition for Mac was the UI, it’s no surprise that the color schemes are different. The default scheme features a darkish gray background with light-gray text. It looks like After Effect and some other video programs... very trendy but mostly either too subtle or hard to read. Fortunately you can adjust the color scheme as a preference, although the only control that has a wide range of effects on the UI is the Brightness slider. All in all, the color schemes are a bit too dark and monochrome for my tastes, and somewhat hard to read as a result. But then again, I’m old now and YMMV (your mileage may vary).

However, there are several very pleasant surprises over version 3. For example, Audition for Mac lets you to work on multiple sessions simultaneously, making the process of moving and sharing elements between projects a whole lot faster. A new history window lets you go back in time and undo across several steps in one go, rather than backing through them one at a time. You can use both VST plug-ins as well as Audio Unit plug-ins in the same session, and Audition for Mac comes with one of the only true editors for BWF metadata that I know of in an audio editor.

WHAT’S MISSING?

But as mentioned, there are issues. I don’t mean bugs, although there are a few of those, but rather what’s not in the Mac version at the moment versus what was in version 3. One of the most glaring of these is a complete lack of input monitoring in Waveform Mode. Yes, you can see the input signal with the meters, but as far as I can tell the beta version has no facility to actually hear that input audio. Of course you can monitor from the Multitrack View, where you will find a friendly “I” button for Input monitoring.

Another MIA feature is MIDI -- it has been removed altogether. I know that few of you will shed so much as a tear over this one, but it’s notable by its absence. And then there’s the doozy issue around opening previous Audition sessions...

As things stand today, older sessions can’t be opened directly by Audition for Mac (and Adobe appears unconcerned about the issue). Among other things, the code re-write changed the structure of session files such that only current sessions (those that end in .sesx) can be opened directly. However, one can open an older session that was exported in XML format. This format is often used to import video edit files, where the XML language is used to describe the files, their location and the edits made to them. Hopefully the final version will be able to open at least version 3 session files without these extra steps and without having to go back to v3 for an export.

WHAT I LIKE

A side benefit of the re-write was that most of the legacy code was removed, including some that dates back to Cool Edit Pro, that tended to slow the program down during use. They also went to some effort to keep Audition from consuming both CPU cycles and memory. The result is a program that seems snappy right from the first launch. I also like the fact that the program currently weighs in at a bit over 100 megabytes, which I believe gives it some of its speed. When it comes to code, smaller is faster.

Adobe also kept the good stuff. One of my favorites is the Spectral editor, which depicts the audio in the frequency domain. That is, the audio file is analyzed and its frequency content is plotted from low to high, with higher levels in yellow and lower levels going through red to purple and blue. Several Photoshop-like tools then allow you to eliminate unwanted noises that occur at specific frequencies without affecting other frequencies in that time period. A low-frequency rumble can be selected and removed without messing with the low-mid and midrange frequencies, with much more precision that what can be had with equalization.

I also like the way the latest Apple wireless hardware works with Audition for Mac. During my evaluation, I became rather fond of Apple’s so-called “Magic Mouse” which connects via Bluetooth. In the Waveform view, sliding a finger forward and back across the mouse surface results in horizontal zoom in and out.  In Multitrack View, sliding forward and back results in either vertical track scrolling when over the waveforms, and adjusts the track height when over the track header. Sliding left and right scrolls backward and forward in time in both views, making navigation a quick process.

DIRECTING THE AUDITION

So it looks like there are changes afoot between version 3 and version 4. Who does Adobe expect to buy Audition for Mac?

If you read enough of Adobe’s marketing materials on Audition for Mac, you may get the sense that they are aiming it at the video post-production field more than at music, or even at straight audio production as performed in the radio business. As mentioned, the new Audition has unapologetically removed MIDI, a staple of the music business. The lack of input monitoring in the Waveform View may be a temporary omission of this early version, or it may be intentional -- I don’t know. But if one considers a post production workflow, the Waveform Editor is more useful as an editor for audio recorded elsewhere, including in the Multitrack View. Perhaps the reason there’s no monitoring is that they don’t expect users to record in Waveform View. Except that radio people have been doing exactly that for a long time.

That’s the feeling I get as well, and it makes some sense given the company’s After Effects and other video products, and the fact that one of Audition’s biggest competitors in radio production is Sony’s Vegas Pro, which is primarily a video editor with a very competent audio editor built-in. If I’m correct about that, then that’s a bit sad for Audition. The Mac audio software market could use a straightforward, competent stereo and multitrack editor like Audition. Right now this version looks like it’s designed for video editors and audio post rather than hard core audio production. The Waveform View seems more an afterthought in this version than it did in version 3 and earlier.

That’s where you come in, dear Reader.

If you use or have access to a Macintosh, then visit labs.adobe.com/technologies/audition/, download the beta Audition for Mac and check it out. Visit the product forum at forums.adobe.com/community/labs/audition and politely tell Adobe what you think is right with it and what is not. The developers have not posted a new version since the original beta release in November, and I don’t know if they will post another before releasing the retail version -- I certainly hope they do -- so time may be of the essence. Even if you don’t have, use, or even like Mac computers, remember that what you see there may be what you get in Audition 4 for Windows as well.

And if this is all just too much high drama, there’s really no reason to stop using Audition 3, at least until the next version of Windows comes out. Or you could take a serious look at Cocko’s Reaper, which is reasonably priced, runs quite happily on both platforms, and continues to be updated regularly.

Final pricing for Audition for Mac has not been set, but pricing for Audition 3 has been $349 US with upgrades at $99 US. We’ll see, won’t we?

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