Review: Bias Deck II v2.5





With Deck II v2.5, Bias provides you with a truly (Mac-platform only) virtual recording-, editing-, mixing- and postproduction studio within your Mac. Deck II runs on any AV-Mac with stereo input, on any PowerPC with stereo input and on Macs equipped with DigiDesign or ProTools digital audio gear.

Deck II comes in a box, combined with SoundEdit 16v2, a package that Marcomedia already sold for a longer time. About tow years ago, Macromedia bought the OSC-company, the makers of Deck II. By doing so, Macromedia saved Deck II from fading away from the market (OSC was too small to support such a heavy pachage by its own) which would have been a great loss to the professional audio industry. Recently, Macromedia sold the audio range (both Deck and SoundEdit) to Bias.

The box contains a CD-ROM with an easy install of both packages and some very nice additional stuff, plus two well written documentation books on both packages. The Deck II book alone is 341 pages thick, clearly written, well indexed and richly documentated with screenshots.

Deck II itself is the very best tool we ever had in the eCompany AudioGroup Studios. We use it every day for recording, editing and postproduction and never had such an easy working tool on our hands. And at a very reasonable cost. And: without additional hardware, though Deck II works with digital audio-hardware such as DigiDesign and ProTools as well. We use DigiDesign in our studios, but tested Deck II for this review on a regular PowerMac without extra audio gear, as most of you will have gone to the bottom of their money possibilities already when buying a PowerMac. Musicians aren't the richest people on earth. Well, most of them...

To give you a general overview of the basic featurs of Deck II, on this page we give you screenhots of the most important windows you will work with within Deck II. We also tell you what we think of it, related to the daily use of Deck II in our regular studio work. We used the settings of a realtime production we did in one of our studios: a music production called "Bell".



First of all: the Transport-window, shown above. An easy to use controller that handles all basic actions you need. It is just like you have a taperecorder in front of you. No heavy thinking on which command to use next: just click the desired button and go.

Deck II has a long list of shortcuts behind this elegant user interface which will become handy when you get more familiar with the software. In the Transport-window, you can also change Pitch, set loops en read dB values of various actions in other windows (such as volume settings in the Mixing window, see below). It also lets you jump directly to timepositions in your song through the popup menus above "Location Times" and mixer settings through the popups above "Mixer States". A very handy tool that makes editing a quick and smooth operation. Remember: time is money, certainly in a recording studio where you do not want to spend time on endless scrolling forth and back through huge audio files.



Tracks-window.

The Tracks-window (shown above). As you may have guessed, the Tracks-window is the most important window of all (at least we think so). Here you can get a What You See Is What You Hear (WYSIWYH) overview of the audio you recorded or imported (up to DAT-level of 48000 Hz thus including Audio-CD quality at 44100 Hz, but also the 22050 Hz level which is so typically for CD-ROM productions like games). When importing, Deck II supports a professional range of audio formats: SoundDesiger I and II, AIFF and WAVE. When Mixing to Disk (a handy tool that lets you create ready-mixes on your harddisk) Deck II supports enough ranges of formats to cover all your needs: SoundDesinger II (SDII), AIFF, SND (the Sound Resource files for Mac), WAV (the Windows Wave-format) and QuickTime. You can choose between all comon sampling rates at MixDown and set mono or stereo mixing. At the left side of the Tracks window you will find all you need for soloing, muting and recording ("S", "M" and "R" buttons), and also here you can read about dB-settings per track, and switch between the audioview, the panning-view and the volume-view. The screenshot below shows the volume-mode, where you can fully automate the volume mixdown of each track by adding edit-points en drag these point up and down and left to right. The example below shows an automatic fade-in at start and an automatice volume decrease somewhat later.





Mixer Window.

The Mixer Window (shown above) gives you full control over your audio. Above you saw the automating-proces of panning and volume-setting by drawing lines: in this window you can get the same results by moving the volume- and panning-faders in this complete virtual mixing console. As on a real mixing console, here you also have buttons for solo, mute and record-enable. The four popups above each chanel give access to realtime effects. In the example above, on track 1 and 2 we have activated a Graphic Equalizer, a Chorus and a Delay 1. We bypassed the Delay to have a "better ear" on EQ and Chorus (the purple light was clicked grey to bypass). The settings of these effects can be changed in the Effects Window, which looks like this:



Effect Window.

The Effect Window gives you all the sliders you need when you actived effect-popups in the Mixer Window. In the example above we boosted a bit at the 60Hz level (the bass), we dimished a bit in the midranges and pushed up the high to make "Bell" sound more crispy and fresh. The changes can be monitored in realtime: you do not have to wait till calculations by the Mac are done (such as in SoundEdit): you hear directly what you are doing, just as in the real world. Great. In the screen above we just activated the Graphic EQ and bypassed all other effects to get a clear audio picture. Of course: the number of effects you can apply to a track are in theory endless, but in real time restricted to the power of your Mac (harddisk speed and RAM). Especially the Reverb-effects need horse-power and two different Reverb-effects on one track on a -lets say- 6100 PowerMac (the machine we used to test Deck II for this review) will bog down this machine. The effects are non-destructive: the original recorded audio remains untouched. This makes that you can freely experiment with the effect settings without damaging your original audio. You can use these effects on playback and at MixDown, not while you are recording. In our opinion this is the most clever way to work. Record clean, and add effects afterwards.

A very handy feature is the Add Audio to ClipBoard-feature, with which you can import previous recorded audio into the Deck II environment. The thus imported audio is (after conversion if needed) stored in the Library, from where you can Drag & Drop into the Tracks-window directly to the desired position.



The Library Window (shown above) gives you the date of creation of the previous recorded audio and its length, plus its position on your harddisks. Deck II also has a feature that lets you discard the no longer used audio from the Library (and from your harddisk as well), thus freeing up new recording space on your harddisk.



Antoher nice feature is that you can import one midi-file and have it run along with the digital audio in the Deck II-tracks. Of course this is a simple function and you may want to use a professional midi sequencing program to preproduce the midi-composition you want to let run along in Deck II. But: as simple as it is, it is a very handy option we offen use in our studios to "translate" a midi-composition to a realtime live recording. It enables us to let play along the live musicians with the midi-composition.

Of course, Deck II is able to be "the conductor" for sequencer sofware through SMPTE. Bias's Metro midi sequencer works very well with Deck II and provides good basic midi sequencing, but is not the most professional and versatile midi package we can think off. You may want to use MOTU's Performer 5.5 of Steinbergs Cubase 3.0 do the real midi thing.



QuickTime Window.

Just one more handy feature of Deck II: the QuickTime Window (shown above). Deck II lets you import a QuickTime-movie and let it run along with the digital audio-production you made. When you import the QuickTime movie (and it contains audio), you can choose to discard the original audio or keep it and put it on a Deck II Track. There, you can add other audio to the movie and postproduce it with all features Deck II has to offer. When you're finished, you can export the movie with the newly added or replaced audio to a movie file, playable on Macs. You can also add some extra choices to make the movie run on other platforms, such as Windows. In the example above, we combined Deck II audio with an experimental movie we are working on: a moving copy of our company logo.

Of course: you cannot change the graphical contents of the QuickTime movie within Deck II. For that, you will need other softgear like Adobe's Premiere. The possibillities Deck II offers you are very well suited though for digital audio-to-video production on your Mac, when the graphical part is delivered to you in its final version that is. If you add a MPEG-board to your Mac, you have a fullscreen video editing suite on your hands.

Conclusion.

We already have used Deck II's earlier versions in our StableStudios and were very happy to have it on our harddisk. With this new 2.5.2-release, Bias "killed" the few minor negative aspects of earlier Decks and gave us a truetime virtual recording, editing and postproduction studio that matches all our needs. But not only in the professional studio environment Deck II is in it's place. The Mac-owner, who wants to do some real audio editing at home, will be very happy with Deck II as well. And most important of all: he/she can afford to do so: Deck II is priced very reasonable if not cheap. On every PowerMac with stereo input, you can preproduce completely your own Audio-CD. Only when it comes to the final processing you will need a professional place like a recording studio that can do the final touch for you. We do not mention streetprices here, as we really do not know what the prices in each country are. Contact Bias or your local Mac software dealer or musical instruments store for pricing information. But one thing we know: Deck II 2.5.2 brings high level audio recording and editing at an awfully cheap price. Go for it: you wont't regret it!


All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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12-09-99