Online Review: sonicWORX Studio, Prosoniq





Prosonic, a German company based at Karlsruhe, engineered a new way of digital audio postproduction: based on neural network technology. theMMAP tested the software and had to draw a loud and clear conclusion: this software is King and certainly is going to change the way audio postproduction is done in studio's with Macintosh equipment.

Recently, a red box came in our studios by mail, containing sonicWORX Studio version 1.0.0-E, a brandnew audio postproduction product of Prosoniq at Karlsruhe, Germany. Being in the audio business with some of our studios for a long time, of course we've seen postproduction software for digital audio before. But: what we found out about sonicWORX Studio after two weeks of intensive testing is absolutely top: the results we got after having processed several audio files were in one word fantastic.

The way Prosoniq implemented parameterfiles and wave editing is the most advanced we've come to on the Mac. Being written for PowerPC Macs only, the software works through CPU-intensive tasks with beautifull speed, even when it somes to very complex processing. Of course the processeing takes time, but the results you obtain are worth the waiting and will pay itself back when your studio is able to come up with a high professional results. Our conclusion: sonicWORX Studio does the job far much better than any other postproduction software we know off (and we do know alot...) does. Chapeau!

Next we will show you some of the features that made us so happy about sonicWORX Studio. But first a general overview.

Neural Network Technology.

Prosoniq worked for 5 years on the development of a totally new approach of audio processing, called Neural Network Audio Processing. Prosoniq developped new methods and algorithms that allow almost unthinkable sound processing features.

Neural Network technology is hard to explain to those who are not familiar with it. Perhaps this will do: Neural Network technology is able to recognize and remember the audio characteristics of any source, even when this source plays along in a larger group of sources. E.g. the pattern of a snaredrum can be recognized, even when it is mixed down into a complete band. This makes that (e.g.) you can enhance only those parts of a complex recording that you really want to enhance, leaving all other sources more or less untouched. You can manipulate the snaredrums sound and leaving all other instruments as they are. Of course you have to have some knowledge of sound characteristics to get the best benefit. sonicWORX Studio is the first software in the digital audio range that can perform such complex neural-based tasks, hidden behind a very user friendly interface. And: it does so very well. Of course there are limitations: you cannot recompose previous recorded audio completely, but you have enough tools to enhance a recording to a professional postproduction level and influence it's overall brilliancy.

The features are programmed in plug-ins, that enable the user to upgrade in a very flexible way. The sample-editor and all DSP functions are completely disk based. The samples you work on do not have to fit into the Mac's memory and can be as long as you want (limited by the capacity of your audio harddisk of course). When installed, sonicWORX Studio takes about 1,8 MB of your harddisk. You'll need at least 8 MB of memory, though larger amounts are better. Prosoniq advices 16 MB for the better. We tested on a 24 MB Mac. Some plug-ins take a huge amount of MB: some of them even 6 MB. Some RAM overhead above 16 MB is handy with those heavy plug-ins.

Probably the best news is that sonicWORX Studio works with no additional hardware: you can use the standard audio inputs of your PowerPC Mac. If you are the lucky owner of a digital audio card in your Mac, sonicWORX Studio does the job as well.

The major windows within sonicWORX.

sonicWORX Studio has maingroups of functions, all of them having an own windowgroup:

the wave editor, where you can select the parts of the audio you want to process;
the parameter editor, where you can set the values for the parameter plug-ins you select;
the realtime DSP main page, where you can assign parameter values for realtime audio DSP processing;
the realtime analysis displays (both shown below), where you can see a realtime Frequency/Amplitude diagram of the audio data currently played back, or coming in through the audio inputs of your Mac. Prosoniq programmed a new way of screenrefreshing which is very fast: the diagrams are realy realtime.





the realtime level-meter (shown below), programmed with the same screenwriting techniques. It responds realtime to audiopeaks and can show two things: the audio level (red) and the highest peak level (grey), which can be set in "hold"-mode.



Two ways to work with sonicWORX Studio.

Working with sonicWORX Studio is a real pleasure. It is fully packed with features and plug-ins.

Basically, you have two ways to process audiofiles. The first is through parameter-files, in which you can collect the plug-ins you need. In the example below we colleted the plug-ins Hybrid Neural Denoising and Smooth De-Click. The denoising is doing its job right now. You cannot put two parameters at work at the same time. You can save parameter-files for a particilar audiofile on harddisk for later re-use.




The second way is by using the realtime DSP-processor, of which we give details further on in this review. In the realtime processing mode, you can activate more effects at the same time, and then -when you've got want you want- apply them to the opened audiofile at once. You can save the realtime DSP-settings for a particular audiofile in unique files for later re-use as well. Later in this review, we will tell you about the realtime possibilities. First some testing with the plug-ins.

Hybrid Denoising.

The plug-in we liked best is called "Hybrid Neural Denoising System". It really does what the title says: completely denoising previous badly recorded files. We recorded a file in the most bad thinkable way (hissing amplifier, noisy old mixing console) and then "pulled" it through this plug-in. Presto: the noise was gone. It took some time though: denoising is a very intensive process. On our 6100/66 Mac, the plug-in could handle about 14,5 MB of stereo audio in 1 hour. The Bell-file, we used for testing, is 66,4 MB large, so it took sonicWORX about 4,5 hour to denoise. Of course, faster Macs give better results in time, but the process remains a time consuming one. We dercided to put our Macs at work during the night. The next morning the file was denoised and saved, ready for further actions. Great stability. The excellent renewed quality faded away the 4,5 hours processing time. You can remove three specific types of noise with this plug-in: standard tape noise, amplifier noise and environmental noise. If you do not specify the kind of noise you want te remove, the setting <no initial weights> (shown in the example below) will do a good job as well.

De-click/De-crackle algorithms.

Another plug-in that realy made our day is the one with which you can remove clicks and crackles from audio recordings: De-click/De-crackle algorithms. sonicWORX Studio has two of them. We took an old 45 RPM single of 3"20" that was realy violated by the record players needle and dust. We recorded this single in Deck II on harddisk and then opened it in sonicWORX Studio. We put the de-click/de-crackle plug-in into a parameterfile and let the plug-in do its job. After the processing the clicks were completely gone! A second round with the denoising plug-in gave us back an audiotrack as if it was just recorded with modern digital equipment, not with 1968 hissing equipment! Wonderfull. One of our studios (StableStudio) is specialised in historic audio restauration and is absolutely going to put sonicWORX Studio into the standard toolkit.

We liked that you can control the progress of processing on a file, as shown below. In the Execute-button (you hit this button to start a parameter action) the text "Execute" changes into a %-notation that shows you the progress.



This simple but very handy feature gives you the possibility to do other things while sonicWORX Studio does it's job, and still enables you to keep track of the progress made just by having a short look at the screen.

You even can open multiple files in sonicWORX Studio, assign parameter actions to these files, and then hit all the Execute-buttons of those files in sequence. Doing so you create a batch-like mode: sonicWORX Studio processes all of the files in parallel mode. If you arrange the windows so that you can keep track of all the %-notations, you can see the progress on each file. Working this way you can put your Mac to work on multiple audio files at night, have a good sleep yourself, and wake up the next morning to discover that sonicWORX Studio has done the job for you while you were in dreamland. What a time saver!

Be sure to have enough storage space on your harddisk: at least the same amount as the total of the audiofiles you selected. Otherwise sonicWORX Studio will stop the action when it runs out of harddisk space and you will have to start all-over again. At daytime...

The progress of processing a file is also shown on the graphical representation of your audio tracks: the wave editor window. As the processing progresses, the blue part in the graphic below grows to the right. In the example below you can see the progress of a fade-out between the startpoint inA>/inB> and the ending point <inA/<inB to the right. Of course, the %-notation runs along. While sonicWORX Studio is processing, you even can listen to the already processed part by pressing a key-combination. sonicWORX Studio than plays "the blue part" of the file, where processing already has been applied. Antoher key-combination lets you listen to the original audio in the blue part, without the processed effect. In this way you can compare the original with the processed version to keep track of the changes. A quick way to decide if you like the results of the prosessing or not. If you don't like it, you can stop the process on the fly with yet another key-combination.



Realtime Processing.

What we are realy wild about is the realtime DSP processing, you can obtain using the DSP Main Page. Play the audio file you opened in sonicWORX Studio (or monitor the input that comes into your Mac through the audio inputs) and acvivate some of the parameters in the RealTime DSP page. You get the desired effect(s) in realtime.

Some of them are very CPU-intensive, like the Multiband Maximer shown below. If you active too much realtime processes at once, your CPU won't take the task anymore and sonicWORX Studio will automatically shut off the realtime processing, bringing you back to the original audio. Unactivate one or two effects and click the Active-box (top left) again: on you go again. Even on a "slow" PowerPC 6100/66 we managed to put Multiband Miximizer plus two other effects to work without any problem. Without the Maximizer, we managed to open 6 effects at the same time on the good old 6100/66.

When you are satisfied with the realtime settings, you can apply those to the audiofile by clicking the "Apply to file"-button (top right).



Another good realtimer is Stereofield Correction, which broadens the stereo-image of a recording. When you harddisk-record the audio-outpout of midi-sequencers, the stereo-image is not always as it should be due to limited stereo possibilities of some sequencers. The stereo image is "too narrow". By applying this process to your recording, you can broaden the stereo images, even far beyond the speakers stereo-placement limitations if you like.


Realtime DSP processing also -among others- contains a 7 Band Graphic EQ that gives you full control over the brights & basses of your audio file. Overflow is registered with two small "DSP over"-signs (second left on top) that warns you if you give away too much effect to the audio. Activating the Autogain makes that you no longer have to worry about overflow.



Packed with effects.

sonicWORX Studio is truly packed with processing effects, all of them at a very high quality. It would take a whole web-site to explain them all to you. If you would have to buy all those effects in hardware, it would cost you a fortune. Now you can get them all in digital form within sonicWORX Studio.

When creating a new file, you have the options as shown in the graphic below. sonicWORX Studio can record incoming audio.



Of course, if you are going to work on a previous recorded file (produced with e.g. Deck II), sonicWORX Studio recognizes the settings of those files through the Open-dialog. You can import AIFF, AIFF-C uncompressed and SDII files. You can import other audio formats by enabling "Open as raw audio file" as well.

You can save your production in three sample rates in AIFF and SD II (SoundDesigner) format. If you opened a file in raw format, you can save back to the same raw format. In fact these options are all a professional audio engineer needs to do his job. In the picture below we save the file "bell.aiff" in 16 bit AIFF format.



We like the multiple and endless undo function of sonicWORX Studio very much. Every processing action is "recorded" into the History window shown left. You can listen to the history-item by clicking it once and then push the play button. If you do not like the result, just remove the selected item and the processed item is gone, without effecting the original recording. Very good. Even better: you can click multiple History-items to listen to the effect those steps have on the audio. And: you can multiple-delete as well.



Minor flaws.

As with almost any software, sonicWORX Studio has its own minor flaws, though they have nothing to do with the prosessing quality. As said before: that is of a very high standard. We mention some minor points on which sonicWORX Studio needs (a little) improvement, but that should not keep you from buying the software.

Here and there, the english version still has german buttons. We wonder if an American studio engineer would know what "Abbrechen" and "Schreibtisch" mean. No big thing, a little bit of cosmetics with ResEdit will do.



At some monitors set to 640 * 480 resolution, some parts of the screen are positioned beyond the borders of the screen. No way to read what is there because some windows are larger then 640, or text flows across the border of the window. You need to set to 800*600 or higher to get them in vision. No big problem, unless your monitor is a standard 14 inch that only supports 640*480. To be true, no professional audio editor would like to work on such a small screen, would he?

Finding information of the sample rate of the file you are working with is a bit difficult. The rate is displayed in the upper right corner of each wave form window along with sample length and selection length. In some wave form windows you have to scroll to the right to get this information in sight. Perhaps it is a good idea to implement sample rate and time information in the Open-dialog, where you can get this inmfo when selecting a file for opening. Or: a separate popup window so the info is always at hand.

Though overall the software works rather quickly, some parameter processing takes too much time. Time that delivers good quality, but also costs money in a professional studio environment. We already mentioned the time it took to denoise the Bell-file we used for testing. We also denoised a 45 RPM single of 3'20": it took 2 hours. That is too long for daytime processing and too short (sic) for nighttime processing. Prosoniq already announced an update of the denoising module that will render in less time.

By default, sonicWORX Studio stores it work/temp-files in a map, situated within the map where sonicWORX Studio recides. Normaly, you do not want to have audiofiles on the same harddisk where your system and/or audiosoftware is. Within sonicWORX Studio there is no way to assign a harddisk where to store the workfiles. There is a way around this problem, but this solution is not documented. You can create a temp-folder on the separate audio harddisk where you want the audiofiles to be, make an alias of that folder and put this alias into the same folder as sonicWORX Studio. Delete the original temp-folder there. sonicWORX Studio now puts the workfiles on the separate audio harddisk (see image below).


In some parameterfiles you can only change values in steps of 1 dB. Most engineers would like to have control over the partameters in steps of 0,1 dB. In the parameters files you can only "slide" values, not type. In the realtime processing parameter page, you can type and slide. We recommend to make typing and sliding possible in both approaches, and in steps of 0,1 dB.

Conclusion.

sonicWORX Studio is far out the best audio processing software we ever had in our Macs. The Neural Network techniques, used in this software, are fantastic and produce results that are far-out better than other software packages do. Such a high quality at such a relatively low price is almost unbelievable. Being in its first version, sonicWORX Studio has a few minor flaws, but they only apply to some user interfacing. sonicWORX Studio is king when it comes to audio postprocessing. The engineers at Prosoniq have done a very good job: they made our day!

Prosoniq has announced that plug-in updates will be available at their site http://www.prosoniq.com.

We have a page with sonicWORX specifications.


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

All reviews Mac OS | All reviews Win OS | Other stuff |
Home