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Audio Editing Software

Audio editing is a completely new world for most designers, but it's critically important. If you're a designer from the graphics world, you may be surprised to realize how many digital audio editing solutions are available and how powerful and sophisticated even the entry-level products are.

Digital audio editing, like digital video editing, is non-linear and non-destructive. With these tools you can work magic on audio files: modify the volume level of an audio selection, change the duration of a selection without changing the pitch, change the pitch of a selection without changing the duration, change the sample rate, convolve a sound (apply the characteristics of one sound onto another), fade sound in or out, convert sound between mono and stereo, layer sounds, and much more.

Digital audio software uses terminology you may not be familiar with:

Audio Tip

Audio software can save sound files in a variety of formats, sample rates, and resolutions. Higher sound quality settings mean larger files that require more storage space and will increase the final size of your DVD project.

Stereo files are twice the size of mono files; 16-bit files are larger than 8-bit files; and files that use a 48 kHz sample rate are larger than files with a 44.1 kHz sample rate.

Sample rate is the number of times per second that a digital sample is taken from an analog audio file during conversion to a digital format. Audio on a CD, for instance, is recorded at 44,100 samples each second, referred to as 44.1 kHz (kiloherz). DVD specifications require that audio be 48 kHz, or 48,000 samples per second.

Bit resolution refers to the number of bits (pieces of information) in each audio sample. Audio can be 8-bit, 16-bit, 24-bit, or 32-bit, although many of the more affordable software applications do not support more than 8-bit resolution. Larger bit numbers mean higher fidelity and better quality.

The bit resolution determines the audio's dynamic range, the number of steps to describe audio level from quiet to loud. To calculate the dynamic range in decibels, multiply the bit rate by 6: an 8-bit recording has a dynamic range of 48 decibels.

Although the subject of audio is very complex and technical, there are great audio software solutions that make it possible to jump in over your head and do amazing things while you learn all about it.

Dedicated audio-editing applications provide a great many features, effects, and controls. But keep in mind that the most popular video editing systems also have sound editing built in and will do more than you'll ever need for most projects; in fact, most of the built-in sound-editing features surpass the capabilities of traditional analog audio production tools.

We mention several popular applications here, but there are many others available ranging in price from free to very expensive. No matter which package you choose, you'll be amazed at the emotional, psychological, and entertainment power that edited audio adds to your video projects.

Note: Be sure to check for license information or usage limitations of any library audio files you use or buy. Some music collections have restrictions that limit their legal use to educational or non-commercial projects.

Peak dv (Macintosh)

Peak DV by Berkley Integrated Audio Software, Inc. (BIAS) is a nonlinear, non-destructive application for audio editing. Beautifully designed, it provides advanced professional tools for processing and editing audio, supports many popular MIDI sampling keyboards, and provides advanced sampler support. It's compatible with video editing applications such as iMovie, iDVD, Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, DVD Studio Pro, and Premiere. You can add third-party plug-ins for digital filtering, noise reduction, reverb, equalization, and other effects. A QuickTime Movie preview window is available so you can edit audio to synchronize with a QuickTime movie version of your video file.

Audio Tip

There are many ways to use audio editing to your advantage. For instance, if you have a voice-over narration audio file, you can add various durations of silence between narrative comments to synchronize the narrative with the existing video soundtrack.

The Transport window shows elapsed time and provides Transport controls for both playback and recording.

Sonicfire Pro (Macintosh and Windows)

Sonicfire Pro from Sonic Desktop Software is a professional tool for creating customized soundtracks using SmartSound's royalty-free music collections. The software enables you to preview, buy, and download any cut (music selection) in the SmartSound Library for a price that's affordable and reasonable, or you can buy entire collections of music on CD.

A SmartSound music score consists of Smart Blocks of music that you can copy, paste, delete, and rearrange to create your own score. When you drag the right edge of a Smart Block to lengthen it, SmartSound recomposes the music to fit the new duration. Smart Blocks contain variations that make your options as a composer virtually unlimited.

The Movie Window (below, left) allows you to import a movie and create a score for any scene or for the entire movie by dragging Smart Blocks to the Timeline. You can even import your own music that's not from SmartSound's library and have SmartSound automatically recompose it to fit longer or shorter durations.

Drag a musical selection from the upper area of the “Blocks” window to the Timeline; then drag the right edge of the selected Block left or right to change its duration. SmartSound will automatically recompose the selection to match the new duration.Or drag different Smart Blocks from the Smart Blocks window (lower-right) to the Timeline above to create your own musical arrangement.

Volume “rubber bands,” similar to the volume controls found in video-editing software, give you complete control of your audio volume. The “SmartSound Maestro” button in the Toolbar (shown on the previous page) helps you find SmartSound music that may be on your computer, a CD, or the SmartSound web site. The Maestro window (shown below) lets you search for a style and intensity of music. If the music you choose is on the SmartSound site, you can click the “Purchase” button and download the file immediately.

The SmartSound Maestro shows a list of music found based on the criteria in the top three panes.A CD icon next to a selection means the selection is on a CD that has been catalogued to your computer.An Internet orb icon means the selection is available on the SmartSound web site.A hard drive icon means the selection is on your computer.

SmartSound Movie Maestro (Macintosh and Windows)

Movie Maestro, another product from Sonic Desktop Software, is similar to Sonicfire Pro but intended for home movies rather than professional projects. The price has been scaled back accordingly. The interface is simpler and most of the advanced features are missing, such as volume rubberband controls and the ability to compose your own arrangements using the component blocks of a music selection.

Movie Maestro music collections are recorded at 22.1 kHz, which is CD-ROM/multimedia quality. For audio that will be used on DVD projects, audio files must be 48 kHz. If you choose Movie Maestro for its attractive price (about $50), buy SmartSound's “Pro” music collections that are recorded at higher sample rates (44.1 kHz).

SoundSoap (Macintosh and Windows)

SoundSoap ($99, from BIAS) is an application for professional-quality noise reduction that's also easy to use for those of us without a professional audio-editing background.

In addition to saving audio files that can be imported into a movie project, SoundSoap can open an entire movie project and clean the soundtrack (that's why it's called SoundSoap). It's available as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for other host audio applications, such as Peak, Adobe Premiere, Pinnacle Studio, or Wavlab.

SoundSoap can salvage an unusable audio file or can change the sound of your project from amateurish to professional. In the example below, the plug-in version of SoundSoap is shown in front and Peak DV is in the background. The “Wash Window” shows the digital file before (left side) and after (right side) SoundSoap cleaned it up.

Noise Tip

Old analog tape recordings that have been digitized and copied to a computer are notorious for hissing, scratchy sound that's barely usable or totally unusable. Even the worst of these kinds of files can usually be dramatically improved with SoundSoap.

Amazing Slow Downer (Macintosh)

Even if your video projects are small, personal projects without the need for sophisticated audio editing, the inexpensive Amazing Slow Downer (less than $40, by Roni Music) can be very useful. Amazing Slow Downer focuses on just a couple of the features found in more expensive audio-editing applications: duration and pitch. Change the duration of a music soundtrack without changing its pitch, or change its pitch without affecting the duration of the soundtrack.

Other Applications

ProTools is another popular audio editing application for Windows and Mac OS X; see www.DigiDesign.com.

You might also want to look at Cakewalk for the PC, www.Cakewalk.com.

When you edit a movie and the video sequence is just a few seconds too short or long for a particular audio track, you can change the speed of the audio track with the slider (shown below) so that it plays slightly faster or slower to match the length of the video without any detectable difference in the sound (if you avoid extreme adjustments of the speed).

Or you may have adjacent audio clips in your movie that would sound better if you raise or lower the pitch of one of the clips. A “Karaoke” function (the “KA” checkmark in the bottom-left corner) lets you reduce or remove vocals or certain instruments from a song. The results will vary, depending on how the stereo material was recorded.

SPARK (Macintosh)

SPARK, by TC Works, is available in several versions: SPARK ME is free; SPARK LE is low-priced (about $50), and sometimes bundled with video-editing software such as Adobe Premiere; SPARK XL is a robust version (about $500) that includes many high-end features designed for full-time audio -professionals.

The main WorkSheet window contains the Data Base view, where all your audio files are organized; the Play List view to organize files for CD-burning; and the Edit view, where the audio waveform is seen as both Overview and Detail views, and where you can select segments of the waveform to modify and edit.

The Master View window contains master controls and four slots for “FX Machine” plug-ins, power tools for creating real-time sound manipulation, sound design, and master processing. Several FX Machine plug-ins come with SPARK, and you can buy others.

The Master View window provides audio level controls on the left. The right side provides space for up to four FX Machine plug-ins. Click the “Add” button to place plug-ins in the window, then double-click a plug-in icon to open its controls, such as the MaxIT Master window below.

The MaxIT Master plug-in, an audio mixer for creating audio effects.

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