Is the standalone waveform editor dead? by Jeff Yurek
Sony thinks not,as it finally brings Sound Forge Pro to the Mac.
The Mac has a long and storied past when it comes to dedicated audio waveform editors. Way back at the dawn of the digital age in 1986, SoundEdit, the very first widely used waveform editor was created on the Mac. Since then a lot has changed in how we use and what we expect from our audio software. At a time when every Mac ships with a reasonably capable DAW in GarageBand and professional DAWs of all stripes have evolved sophisticated editing tools, is there still a place in the market for the simple waveform editor on the Mac?
The recent demise of a slew of popular, long standing editors for the Mac like Bias’ Peak, Macromedia SoundEdit and even Apple’s own Sountrack might indicate that the waveform editor’s time has passed but that’s not necessarily the case. If you are working with lots of audio files, restoring damaged recordings, mastering or podcasting, waveform editors probably have some unique advantages over your DAW. They’re typically lightweight, precise and adept at handling repetitive tasks.
Sony seems to agree. They’ve just brought Sound Forge Pro, their popular Windows editor, over to the Mac. It’s not just a simple port though; Sony says the software was “built on a clean slate for OSX.” At first glance, it certainly seems that way with its familiar, iTunes-like user interface and friendly color palette. Mac users are sure to appreciate those details but replicating such a mature app (Sound Forge Pro for Windows is now on version 10) on a new platform is a tall order and Sony clearly have had to make some tough choices to get this first version for Mac shipped.
What they missed
The first thing that I noticed when firing up Sound Forge Pro for Mac is that the Mac-ness of the app seems to only go skin-deep. As a Mac user, I’m used to swiping and pinching my way through a user interface. In fact, even at my desk I use a trackpad now in lieu of a mouse. In Sound Forge, the usual Mac gestures produced unpredictable results; pinching changed the height of the waveform as opposed to the horizontal zoom for example. It wasn’t until I dug out an old click-wheel mouse that things began to make more sense in terms of zooming or navigating quickly.
Another hiccup I ran into was, surprisingly, performance. I ran Sound Forge Pro on an early 2011 MacBook Pro with a quad-core i7 and 16 GB of RAM. That should obviously be more than ample power for clean playback of two-track, 16-bit/44.1kHz audio. Yet, I occasionally experienced drop outs and choppy metering. This is most certainly just a bug related to my machine’s specific hardware configuration but worth noting- if you intend to use Sound Forge Pro for mission-critical work it may not yet be ready for prime time.
Other missing features of significance include key command mapping, no “bounce-to-disk” capability independent of saving the file, and most importantly for many workflows, no true batch processing capabilities.
In order to put Sound Forge Pro through its paces I decided to try out one of it’s core use-cases and used it to master a song that I’d recently mixed in Logic. In this context, the software really started to show it’s potential.
One thing that often keeps me away from waveform editors is destructive processing. Processing in editors has typically been a tedious, destructive process involving preview buttons and a lot of waiting. I like to work fast, adjusting settings on the fly and, most importantly, dynamically adjust them against each other. Change the compressor and you often find the EQ needs another tweak, which leads you to go back to the limiter for further adjustments. Sony’s “Plug-In Chain” window allows you to do that by letting you stack up plug-ins, just like you would in a channel of your DAW. You can change the order for different effects and even save entire chains as presets.
Of course, you’ll want good-sounding plug-ins to chain together and the bundled mastering plug-ins from iZotope are just that. I was able to effectively clean-up a slightly boomy bottom end with the multi-band compressor and eek out plenty of extra level with the limiter using just the bundled plugs from iZotope. There are certainly better, and more expensive, third party mastering plug-ins out there but these are more than serviceable. In fact, the inclusion of the iZotope plug-ins may be worth the price of admission if you are interested in mastering.
Whenever I’m mixing or mastering I often check my work against reference material to make sure that I’m heading in the right direction or, in the case of mastering, getting it as loud as Green Day. Sound Forge Pro’s “dual editing view” proved extremely useful to this end. It allows you to load up two windows at once, each with multiple tabs. This enabled me to load up the tune I was working on in the main window while comparing it to the other two songs in the EP, which had already been mastered, and a couple of reference tracks from the band. Not having to constantly switch over to iTunes or even another window within the program was a real time saver.
In all, the track came out great, it fit-in nicely with the other tunes on the record and the band was happy. So it’s tough to ask for much more. But, with a street price of roughly $250, Sound Forge Pro is on the expensive side as Mac audio software goes. For comparison, Apple’s fully featured DAW, Logic 9 is available for just $199 and Steinberg’s Wavelab Elements 7 is just $99. Given that Sony has clearly had to skip some deeper features to get this software out the door on time, I’d consider waiting for new versions, which are sure to close some of the functionality gaps, to arrive.