Online Review: Sound Forge 5.0, Sonic Foundry,
    now including addendum for version 6.0





Already read the review for version 5.0? Then go to the Addendum for version 6.0.

SoundForge 5.0

Remember? About a year ago we decided to give Sonic Foundry the honor of being the very first Windows audio software supplier that got an online review in AudioMac. Why: because we wished that SoundForge 4.5 was available on the Mac platform as well. It is that good and that professional.

Recently, SonicFoundry put successor version 5.0 in the stores, and of course we asked SoundForge if we could have a look at this new version. As usual with all the products we review, in a real time production. This time the restoration of some old long play records. We downloaded 5.0 from the suppliers web site, and experienced a smooth non problem installation.

Basically, version 5.0 is a large enhanced renewal of the 4.5 version. All basic features, that were in v4.5, came back in v5.0. If you wanna know what we thought and found about v4.5, please read the online review of this version first, and come back here again using your backwards button of your browser.

Version 5.0 needs Windows 98 Second Edition. Windows ME or Windows 2000 to run. Windows 95 will not do. So, if you are planning to run SoundForge under Virtual PC, you will need at least version 4 of this emulator. We tested v5.0 on a PC running Windows ME, and on a Mac G4 running Virtual PC 4 using Windows 2000, and it runs fine. Of course, on the G4 there is some lack of speed because you're in Virtual PC;s emulation environment, but if speed or production time is not your biggest concern, it is very well workable. But, running SoundForge 5.0 on a real PC is always much faster and better, of course. In the real PC world, you need at least a 200 MHz processor and 32 MB of RAM, but more RAM is convenient. These low demands make SoundForge suitable for using under Virtual PC 4.0, that emulates (on a G4) more or less the same processor speed. SoundForge will use the Mac standard audio hardware via Virtual PC

Looks.

The looks of SoundForge is truly enhanced and much better. Sonic Foundry managed to renew the "face", without introducing too much graphical bullshit. The interface looks a bit more luxurious, and has kept the very good logic that already was present in v4.5. Well done.



The buttons e.g. are now somewhat more 3D shaped.



Most important new features.


The software engineers at Sonic Foundry made a deep dive into the features pool, and composed an interesting set of enhancements and new stuff. The list is far too long to mention all here, it can be found at www.sonicfoundry.com/products. We mention the most important ones: 192 kHz support, 24-bit (32-bit float), support for (yes!) QuickTime format (.MOV). The other important Mac format, AIF, already was supported in v4.5. The new SoundForge now includes repair tools for removing clicks and damaged audio, very interesting for audio restoration (digitizing old long play records for CD burning, for example). These tools were sold separately earlier. A smart marketing move: this makes v5.0 very interesting for a large group of PC based audio amateurs, who want to preserve their LP collection. For Virtual PC owners goes the same. CD ripping is now supported directly from within the program. Version 5.0 even includes a LE version of Vegas Audio Pro, the multi track editor of Sonic Foundry. It is enclosed when you buy the CD. We downloaded through the Internet, and could not find Vegas LE.

( Shortly after having written this review, Sonic Foundry told me that a separate download link is available, where you have to type in the serial number of 5.0, and presto: Vegas Audio LE is downloadable for you. Thank you Heidi Iligaray at Sonic Foundry:-).

Effects included.

SoundForge 5.0 comes with a set of instant versions of it's famous Direct-X XFX effects range. You get 18 of these ExpressFX plug ins, which provides you with the most basically needed effects. A set of over 35 audio effects is included as well. Besides that, the Acoustic Mirror is included as well. With this nifty peace of audio software, you can simulate acoustical environments such as a concert hall or church. And when you feel your production is ready for mastering, you can use the included new Wave Hammer Mastering Tools to give the finishing touch. Wave Hammer is a volume shaper and compressor in one, which enables you to do a master edit in just one stroke. The quality it delivers is good. The whole set of effects and plug ins is very complete and gives you the needed tools for audio editing and enhancements, where only the sky, your fantasy and clipped peaks are the limits. Of course, the preview function we liked so much in 4.5, is still there. Below is the screen of ExpressFX Dynamics, one of the 18 light version plug ins.



CD ripping.

CD ripping is becoming more and more popular amongst PC and Mac users. You rip the songs you like most from a bunch of CD's, and burn them on an new one, thus building your most favorite repertoire. CD's can be ripped now from within SoundForge, and you can save the ripped files as MP3, WAV or WMA (Windows Media format). When your compilation is ready, you can burn the CD directly from SoundForge. Before burning, you can use of course the editing features to make bad CD recordings sounds better. This combination of CD ripping, editing and CD burning makes SoundForge 5.0 a complete CD production unit. In most cases, you need three separate programs for this task to accomplish, now you can do it all in one integrated environment. Very strong.

Acid integration.

Not only editing software is a strong point of SonicFoundry, also in the creation sector they have strong stuff. Acid (currently in version 3) is a loop based production builder. It comes with tons of loops, with which you can build a potential hit in any style of music in just a few keystrokes. If the loops that come with Acid are not good enough for you, you can make your own using the new loop feature of SoundForge 5.0.

Multimedia productions.

SoundForge is not only a good audio editor, it can be used to produce multimedia streaming productions as well. Audio and video can be aligned, if needed frame by frame, enabling you to produce a complete video clip, ready for broadcasting through your website. And this one is interesting for midi based studios: your can trigger SoundForge playback using any midi device. Just think a few moments of the possibilities this gives you.... cool!

Conclusion.

Sonic Foundry managed to enhance the already outstanding SoundForge version 4.5 to en even better version 5.0. It's a truly complete package, that will let you manipulate audio (and video to a certain extent) for a wide range of purposes. Want to master a CD? No problem for SoundForge 5.0, that contains all the needed tools to accomplish this task. Want to produce streaming audio on Internet? Possible too. And want to create your own video clip for your website? Even that can be done.

On a scale of 1 (very bad) to 10 (excellent)  we rate SoundForge 5.0 a
9. It gets this high rating for it's outstanding quality, clear interfacing, and the completeness of the total package. SoundForge 5.0 is all-in-one-but-still-very-good-quality solution. Most of the time, all-in-one solutions drop a lot of quality or features, and are mostly good in only one or two of it's features. This is not the case with SoundForge 5.0, where no concessions were made on functionality or quality. Someone should give Sonic Foundry a Software Oscar for this. The biggest compliment we Mac addicts can give a Windows developer might be the following one: I wish this software was a Mac OS based product. That really would rock my studio! Sonic Foundry: we challenge you to include a Mac OSX version in your product line. I am sure that the Mac community will love you for that,

AudioMac.net tends not to mention pricing in our online reviews, so you'd better have a quick look at www.sonicfoundry.com for pricing info. You will be surprised: so much for so low!

Addendum: SoundForge version 6.0: The Time Saver.

Sonic Foundry released version 6.0 of Sound Forge, it's major audio manipulation software package for the Windows platform. In the review of version 5 (see above), you have read that we at AudioMac (though being Mac freaks since mid 80's) we highly appreciate SoundForge. The only lack is that it is not available for the Macintosh platform ;-).

To be honest: we thought SoundForge was more or less complete, at it's top so to speak. At Sonic Foundry, they had different ideas here, and they decided to make the very good thing even a little more better. By adding some new functionalist that -we must agree- make SoundForge even more complete. Let's have a look.

Non-destructive editing.

First of all the -to our opinion- most important improvement: non-destructive audio editing. For those of you who do not know what nd-editing is: it basically means that you can edit your audio file as much as you want, while the original file remains untouched. Un till you render the final result, of course. For example: when you delete a part of the file, pointers are set at the beginning and end of the deleted part. This part is no longer played, but it's still there. The to be deleted part is not actually deleted. This makes undoing much more flexible.

But that's not all: by taking this approach, SoundForge works faster than earlier versions. It does not have to perform all that heavy works (e.g. delete a part and glue the remaining parts together), but just does the pointers stuff. The Windows equipment in our studio is not that heavy: a Pentium II 350 with a lot of RAM en hard disk. Version 6 shows much quicker action and response on this machine than version 5 did. And v5 was not bad at all.... A very good improvement, making SoundForge even more suitable for professional production work than it already was.

But there is much more. Another time saver was built in: multitask background rendering. You can edit (any action you want) on one file, while rendering another file in the background. Of course, to let these simultaneous tasks run smoothly, you need a heavier Windows box then we have, but even on our relatively slow PC this new feature worked fine. Another proof that Sonic Foundry has an eye for the financial side of running a studio business, where every minute counts, right?

On the audio quality side, SoundForge now can work up to 64-bit float/192 Khz. I know: most of you still believe that 16-bit/44Khz is enough for CD production, but many discussions on the Internet prove that not everyone agrees on this ;-). The rules we at AudioMac.net live by are simple: the higher you can get, the more data you have and the better the result will be when you "down sample" to 16bits/44 Khz. Version 6 fulfills that promise when it comes to "audio resolution".

Another interesting one: SoundForge now supports files of 4GB and larger, up to the limits of your disk or RAID space. This allows for working on large projects, without having to cut such a project into "we can only handle that much audio, sorry guys" parts. Good.

On the effects side, the Modeless Audio Plug-In Chainer makes the handling of effect plug ins more easier and efficient. You can add or delete plug ins, and hear the results immediately on any open data window without having to close the Chainer. Another time saver, we can assure you.


* The Audio Plug-In Chainer.

The New DirectX Plug-In Manager is another improvement of the category "we let you work faster". With this Manager, you can re-arrange your DirectX plug ins so that you can find them back quicker. There is even a Favorites menu (more or less like the one you find in Internet Explorer), where you can place the plug-ins you need most of the time. The Favorites gives you quick access, so the long searches and clicking for the frequently used plug ins are over. If you do not want to reorganize your plug-ins, SoundForge v6 can do it fully automated for you. You can have it just the way you want. That's what we like in good user interfaces: it does what we want it to do, not the other way around ;-).


*The Plug-In Manager window, where you can reorganize your plugs.

Other improvements are a greater zoom ration of 24:1, which allows us to do even more precise editing (24:1 means 24 pixels equals to 1 sample). New is also a small window, where you can set 2 custom zoom ratios. Here you can store two of your favorite zoom settings for quicker access. Another time saver: how much time did it take before to get that preferred setting? You know what I mean? Very handy too is that you now can switch between different playback devices on the fly. Just switch without having to stop the audio. Another time saver. Plus the Docking Windows feature, which is very handy too. It puts an end to the chaos of open windows on your screen.


*Docking Windows.

There are some more new features, but we are not a products catalogue. Have a look at the website of Sonic Foundry, you can find all detailed information there. Well, OK, just to mention a nice surprise that comes on the SF6 CD: Vegas Video LE, a light version of Sonic Foundry's challenging video editing software (reviewed in this site). Vegas Video LE gives you a nice starting tool for digital video editing, which e.g. can be used to produce a sample video clip to go with your audio production.


*Vegas Video LE, to get you started with digital video clip production.

Conclusion.

We have a suggestion for some extra impulse for the product campaign for version 6: call it "The Time Saver". That is exactly what version 6 is in our opinion. Most new features enrich SoundForge with a higher production speed (non destructive editing, background rendering, and the other new handy tools). Several enhancements in the user interface and the handling of plug ins bring even more speed to the editing work, and that is good. Time is money, and that goes for studios as well. It is very good to see that a software supplier has an eye for these kind of things, and not only is focusing on bringing more and newer features just for the gimmick and bringing, if you get what I mean ;-).

We gave version 5 a 9. That goes for version 6 as well, with a PLUS added for the speed. Nothing to nag about? Of course ;-): there is still no support for Sound Desinger II, only for version I. Why not? When?


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

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24-05-2001 (v5), 02-06-2002 (v6)