Online Review: Acid Music 3.0, Sonic Foundry





Whenever I get my hands on software, that somehow seems appealing to me, the first question I put myself is: can I use the functionality of this software to do exactly what I want to do. In other words: can I fall in love with this software within 10 minutes, or is getting to know the software a struggle for life with stupid user interfacing end technical approaches I -as a creative artist- don't wanna know about at all. This approach is the logical result of the fact, that I've been working with Apple computers since 1984. In the Apple world, you do not bother about drivers, DLL's, install procedures and most of the time even handbooks. You just drag the software to the harddisk and start creating. That's the way it should be.

Well. Here comes the bad part. For which -let me make that clear immediately- is not Sonic Foundry responsible, but entirely my own Windows stupidity (Oh yes, I'm not ashamed about that ;-).

When I installed Acid Music 3.0, and loaded a demo song just to check if all was OK, the audio came glitching and stuttering out of my studio boxes. Wow, that's a good start. We looked and tried and puzzled, but being Mac freaks we never learned about the inner secret circles of Windows, so our non Windows technical stumbling did not bring a solution. OK, let's send an e-mail to SF and call for help.

Now comes the good part. I mailed my call for help to SF at exactly 21:16 hours. At 21:46 hours, exactly 30 minutes later, Heidi Iligaray (international account manager as far as I understand) reacted and wrote me she had forwarded my question to the tech guys. That appeared to be true. At 22:40 (just about 1 hour) techguy Matt Berger sent me a huge list of possible solutions, based upon the info about our PC and Windows version I had incorporated in the "help me" mail.

Matt truly overwhelmed me with a huge list of possible trouble makers in the Windows environment, a list longer than any trouble shooting list of control panels and extensions I've ever seen in the Mac world. It just happened to be so that (most probably by pure luck) quite a lot of the troubleshooters already were discovered in our first Windows journey-to-hell. But: the solution was in the mail as well: we were using the wrong DirectX version. OK, should have read the info files, but hey, we're Mac freaks remember? We do NOT read manuals ;-). Waste of time....

So we installed the new DirectX stuff (v8.0a). By the way: on my G4 I still use some extensions that are over 8 years old, and they still do fine. Not so in Windows forest: you will have to plant a new tree almost every 2 to 3 months. OK, we did that, and the problem was solved. First good point for SF for the very good, fast and accurate services. Applause, and I really mean that. I know of some other suppliers that.... well, I won't start over again about a certain up north German company that never answers my mail ;-).

OK, enough about the good guys at SF. Let's have a look at Acid Music 3.0. What is it and who normally use it. Acid 3.0 is an arranger, that basically is intended to grab audio samples and then create new music out of these samples by arranging and mixing them. I hear that many DJ's are using Acid to make their mixes for shows (dance and house parties and the like). Another interesting way of making music. You can import samples in a very easy way (drag and drop from a explorer window straight into the arranging window), using the same way of user interfacing as in Vegas Pro, another SF product we reviewed earlier.

The way I want it.

So I thought of following functionality. Suppose I want to rearrange 12 songs from a CD we produced earlier. Would it be possible to do that quick and easy with Acid? And: I want to add some fade ins and outs, without editing in the original audio files. So I copied the 12 files from the CD to harddisk, creating a WAV audio on the fly of course. Yip, also by dragging and dropping the .CDA files from the CD straight into the arranging window.

Beatmapper Wizard.


Woops: what happens? Surprise (remember, I never read manuals): a window called Beatmapper Wizard pops up, asking me if I want to provide my audio file with tempo information.

* The BeatMapper Wizard's first window, asking me if I want to add tempo information to the CD-track I just imported.

This will allow me later to adjust the tempo of the CD file to other tracks and samples in the project. BeatMapper allows me to set a starting and an ending point for the beat, and does so in a handy step by step approach. Good idea.

Matching tempo of different sample files is one of the biggest strength of Acid 3.0. It allows you to (within certain quality limits of course) to adjust tempo/length, so that different timed audio samples can be matched very easily. This is most probably the big secret that all those DJ's use, and the reason why their mixes always sound so awfully good timed ;-).

OK, let's beatmap (not to be confused with bitmap, a graphical storage procedure). And after some steps in the Wizard, a new track is created. Just drag the pencil tool over the track, and the audio appears. Volume and Pan can be altered using a line with dot handles. When you drag a dot handle, a small yellow popup balloon gives you the exact info of volume in dB and panning in percentages from left or right. Good: this makes it very easy top exact pinpoint the audio file to how you wanna have it.

When I had all the files converted, it took me just about 15 minutes to rearrange the CD. Could have been done even much quicker, but I am very critical on what I do. Adjust the volume a bit here, make a fade out there, etc. It all works very intuitive. And then could have burned the new CD directly from within Acid (which I did not, this was just a testcase).

I think Acid 3.0 is -to start with- a very fine final arranger, maybe a function that this software was not developed for in the first place. but as I said before: I like to explore the edges of functionality.

Creating.

* The main screen of Acid 3.0. Upper left the tracks, upper middle the graphical representation of the audiofiles and a video track. Down left and down middel the explorer window, where you find and assign audio files. Down right the volume control window, which you can exchange with a video preview.

After the CD experiment, I started creating around a bit. I took the samples that came with an Acid demo on the HP software CD that came with my new HP CD-RW, copied them into a folder on the PC's harddisk, and started dragging and dropping. I could have used almost any audio file on my harddisk or network, as Acid will read a variety of files (see formats later on). You do so by selecting an audio file in the middle lower part of the screen (the explorer), and then drag it into the editing window (middle up).

I first dragged a beat track, and gave it one of the built in effects (Flanger). I'll get back to the effects later. When I was looking for a second track to drag in, the beat track played, and I clicked on one of the tracks in the explorer window. And just at the right moment in the first rhythm of the Beat track, this sample started to play along in -of course- the right tempo as well. A kind of preview mode, so to speak. Here you have good functionality at its best: you can hear directly if a chosen sample will match your new production or not. It is like color matching: you look, listen, and approve or ignore. You can create without worrying about techniques. Great!

By clicking the link below, you can listen to a short part of the production we did using Acid 3.0 and the HP sample files.


Acid 3.0 Production.mp3, 1,4 MB
.

Slipping.

Another function I like very much is called "slipping". Event offset, that is what slipping does. You press the ALT key and drag the audio sample. The positioning of the whole event or sample (the boundaries so to speak) do not change, but the audio itself within the boundaries can be dragged left or right. This way you can create interesting interval changes. Nice.

Effects.

This easy arranging approach can be found throughout the whole software. Acid Music 3.0 comes with a couple of FX effects, like Distant Echos, One Measure Flanger, Two Beat Phaser or Delay Chirp. These effects sound as if they are most probably intended for DanceDJs and HouseMixers. Nice, but not so good for use in a more traditional production process. For that, you should get yourself the professional SF DirectX XFX plugs. The specials sound very good though, and are of greast use for DJsm as far as I can determine (I am not a DJ).

Savings.

You can save an Acid project in two ways: an ACID Project File (.ACD) with links to the samples you used, or an ACID Project With Embedded Media File (.ACD-ZIP). In the second one, all samples are incorporated within the file, so that you always have all the stuff there when you travel around with your file on a CD or send it somewhere over the Internet. You can also send your production to Acidplanet.com, where your can give your production a worldwide premiere in the Lounge. The website also offers free samples, so called 8 packs, every week. These packs (I downloaded a couple of them) give you enough starters material to get you going for weeks.

Sample rates.

Acid Music 3.0 works with sample rates from 8.000 kHz up to 48.000 kHz. Enough. The Pro version can even go higher in sampling rates. When you render your production to hard disk, you get a long list of format choices, among others MP3, QuickTime, Video for Windows and WAV, Windows Media Audio or Video, and Macintosh AIFF (yes!). Enough to let you produce for a variety of outlets. If you like, you can save each track in a separate audio file, handy if you want to do some extra adjusting in other software. If you want to edit the contents of your video, you will need other software, as with Acid 3.0 has no video editing capabilities. If you ant to stick to SF oproducts, Vegas Pro is a good choice here. What it can do with video files is adjust the volume of the video's audiotrack or assign effects to it, as -while importing the video- the video's audio track is separated and imported into a separate Acid track.

Family Comparison Chart.

The Acid family contains a range of products, all with more or less functions built in. I give you a comparison table that SF sent me, so you can see for yourself what the differences are. The sheet opens in a separate window, that you can close again to return here.

Give it a try.

Sonic Foundry sure knows how to do their marketing. You can give Acid 3.0 a try at no costs before you buy. You can download a free copy from SF's website (http://www.sonicfoundry.com), and use it as a free Acid XPress version. This gives you some limitations (e.g. the number of tracks is limited), but gives you enough idea to decide if you wanna upgrade or not to more functionality by registration and paying. There are free samples on SF's website too, so you can grab yourself some material to work with if you don't have such in stock. Good marketing, as I said ;-).

Conclusion.

Those of you who read my earlier reviews on Sonic Foundry products know, that I would like this supplier to develop for the Macintosh platform as well. Since we have SoundForge 4.5 (and later 5.0), the PC has become a permanent part of my studio equipment. Would be great to have this software in my G4. (We tried under Virtual PC, it works, but not too smooth: OS emulation always is slower than on the original platform of course).

The Sonic Foundry software is easy to use (good interfacing, smart and clear production flow), and suits very well in professional environments. I looked at Acid 3.0 to discover if I could use this software as a quit editing tool in real time "traditional" production environment, e.g. to quickly rearrange a CD, or quickly match audio fragments and samples into a perfect timed audio track for let's say a TV commercial. Maybe SF thought more of DJs and MixFreaks when they developed Acid, but my conclusion is that -maybe even without realizing it- they created a very handy tool that can be of great worth and times saving in the professional recording studio. Good work.

In the Dutch scale from 1 (very bad) to 10 (very good) I rate Acid 3.0 a 8,5, seen from the "traditional professional" point of view. It will probably not be the tool I do all my productions with, but I will grab to Acid 3.0 when CD rearranging and "has to be done quickly"projects should be accomplished. The MixFreak or DanceDJ most probably will give Acid a 10, but such a way of using Acid 3.0 was not my way of walking in this review. In my studio environment, I tend to see Acid 3.0 as a very handy tool do some some quick but yet highlevel work if time is short and the UPS-man is banging on my door to get the final production on the road. Acid 3.0 will then most probably save my day.

As you may know by now, AudioMac.net tends not to mention pricing in the online reviews, so you'd better have a quick look at www.sonicfoundry.com for pricing info.


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

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28-10-2001