A true story: In the early 1990s there was a local AM station outfitted with cart decks, reel machines, and a turntable or two. One day a part-time board operator took his personal PC to work loaded with basic audio editing software. He patched the machine into the production console and proceeded to work without using the reel machines or cart decks. The general manager saw the computer and asked the part-timer, “How do you plan on using that thing?”
Now nearly 20 years have passed, and the general manager's question has most likely been revised. “How do you plan on not using that thing?” The radio industry has accepted the desktop computer with open arms, and non-linear editing capabilities have changed the way we do everything (except for a few rare, die hard voice-over guys from yesteryear who still use the splicing block and razor blade). Radio production and voice talent sound better than ever, and equipment racks are becoming increasingly dusty. Lately, the rack-mounted equipment in a typical production studio is overshadowed by a plug-in package.
The development of PC or MAC-based non-linear editing software has permeated the broadcast market with option after option for creating a digital audio workstation (DAW). The encouraging fact for many is that the software packages available today are affordable. Most can be purchased with plug-ins and tools for well under $1,000. With that said, Sony is pushing forward in the production of powerful yet easy-to-use audio editing software. Sound Forge, a familiar name, has recently been improved to Sound Forge 9.0, offering an onslaught of features for video and audio editors alike with multichannel (not multi-track) needs. The new 9.0 interface works in tandem with video files or 5.1 audio files where more than two stereo tracks are recorded. However, for the sake of this discussion, we'll focus on traditional stereo audio, and how Sound Forge 9.0 meets or exceeds the editing needs of the radio production facility.
A passing glance
The software's main window displays standard audio editing necessities, made available by clicking in the menu bar, standard tool bar and transport bar. The familiar record, play, pause, rewind and fast-forward transport buttons are readily accessible to help move quickly through the audio file. All of the Sound Forge 9.0 tool bars can be docked, resized, or hidden anywhere within the workspace to help customize the user's need for commands and functions. Having tool bars like “effects” and “process” docked make many of the popular Sound Forge 9.0 functions readily available. For example, when repeatedly working with equalization, the “process” tool bar would be used frequently, so docking it is important. The software comes standard with the expected cut, copy, undo and redo, zooming and saving functions. Essentially, a novice non-linear editor can easily navigate Sound Forge 9.0, quickly customizing it per his or her needs, and an experienced editor will find Sound Forge 9.0 intuitive. A few minutes of experimenting will dissolve the initial anxiety that usually accompanies new software purchases.
Performance at a glance
Windows Vista compatible
Includes noise-reduction plug-ins and Mastering Effects bundle
Adjusts parameters in real time
Phase Scope metering software
Adjustable volume and pan envelopes
Includes CD Architect 5.2
An endless list of features and techniques native to Sound Forge 9.0 could be made to describe all of what the software can do. If you're interested in that list, check out the index in the user's manual. However, there are several features worth mentioning. Namely, the plug-in chainer allows the user to monitor (in real time) the applied effects to an audio file. The chainer can be saved, edited and customized as needed, but requires adequate processing resources. The “pre-record buffer” protects the user from missing the start of an event to be recorded. Based on a preset level threshold, Sound Forge 9.0 can commit recorded audio to disk prior to the user hitting the record button.
The system can also repair audio glitches. Occasionally, digitized analog audio will produce unwanted anomalies, usually milliseconds in length. By using the find tool, users can locate glitches easily, and there are several techniques for eliminating them (interpolating, for example). Regions and markers allow for indexing the audio file. Different takes of a voice-over track can be marked for easier location. A region is a section of an audio file that can be used to identify a chorus or verse in a song, or to make notes in a project. How often has your workstation locked up in the middle of a project? Sound Forge 9.0 automatically creates a file that allows the user to recover any unsaved material and changes made prior to the crash.
In addition to the sample of features and techniques mentioned above, Sound Forge 9.0 allows users to define Scott Studios data commands for creating audio files that can be easily inserted in Scott's automation. Sound Forge 9.0 also employs a standard CD extractor and burner within the software. However, the software also comes packaged with CD Architect 5.2, a workhorse CD burning program that forces Red Book standards on burned CDs. CD Architect is worth its weight in gold for production facilities who want to carefully craft their CDs to work flawlessly for their clients.
The nitty gritty
The operating screen provides access to all the operating controls, as well as a clear visual display of the project.
Once the user is familiar with the initial workspace and numerous functions and tools, it's time to delve into some of the Sound Forge 9.0 features. The system includes Sony Noise Reduction 2.0 and Mastering Effects Bundle by Izotope plug-ins. The noise reduction plug-in is especially powerful in eliminating unwanted hisses, hums and buzzes. By capturing the noiseprint of an audio file, Noise Reduction 2.0 pinpoints and reduces problem frequency levels while preserving the character of recorded material. In addition, the plug-in includes, as an example, the click and crackle removal tool (great for old LPs) as one of more than 40 Noise Reduction 2.0 plug-in functions. These functions are found in the FX Favorites menu and include noise gate, multi tap delay and compressor, along with many others.
The Sound Forge 9.0 meters aid in providing real-time visual reference during the editing process. The meters are dockable windows and include peak meter, PPM, phase scope and mono compatibility. Occasionally, for example, effects on vocal tracks can phase out on the air. The phase scope meter helps users monitor the content of a real-time audio signal to find phase cancellation among the channels in an audio file. The mono compatibility meter helps detect correlations or differences between the channels of a file that can cause phase cancellation when downmixing to mono. Ranges and scales can be set for each meter according to the user's preference and editing environment. The spectrum analysis tools have been updated for multichannel functionality, allowing the user to view frequencies and overtones of different channels within an audio file.
An absolute need in radio production (and engineering) is compression and limiting. The Mastering Effects Bundle offers mastering EQ, mastering limiter, mastering reverb and multiband compressor functions, and it's Sound Forge's biggest step in letting production people fine tune their audio files and create competitive and punchy production.
The mastering EQ, limiter and reverb come with plenty of presets, with the option to create and save user presets. The four-band multiband processor works exactly like a typical air processor, with threshold, gain, ratio, attack and release settings, plus crossover point settings and master output gain. A multiband processor, when used correctly, can add more dimension and flexibility to audio crafting than that of a simple limiter. However, when using the multiband processing, EQ, reverb and limiting together, the results can be satisfactory.
A few loose ends
The software's user interface is fully customizable, as users can select color options and save layouts to fit editing styles. The user interface elements, including waveform, selection, envelope colors, markers and default window sizes, can be customized and saved. Plus, keyboard commands can be customized, saved or exported.
Users can adjust the wet/dry mix of effects by changing the envelopes in the data windows (envelopes are lines with moveable place mark points that represent the level of effects applied to an audio file) or by selecting and making changes with dialog boxes open. Either way, effects parameters can be tweaked on the fly.
Sound Forge 9.0 supports the Gracenote Music ID Media Recognition Service. When extracting audio from a CD, users can view CD information, including title, artist and album. Users can also submit album data.
Sony has made audio editing easy, affordable and effective without sacrificing attention to detail and the inclusion of the necessary tools audio editors need in the radio production environment. With Sound Forge 9.0 in the arsenal, strikingly professional audio production quality is an unavoidable end product.
Wygal is the programmer, engineer and Web designer for WRVL in Lynchburg, VA.
Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.
These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.
It is the responsibility of Radio magazine to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by Radio magazine.