Online Review: Vegas Pro 1.0, Sonic Foundry



OK folks, here we go: the very first review of a Windows based audio software package in this site. Quite an adventure, we must admit. At least for us Mac freaks, getting curious on what's happening "on the other side".

We did some audio stuff on Windows machines before, but never got the thrill to leave faithful Mac and jump over to the other platform. Why? Because we never found software that could beat the ease of use, Mac software has. Unless using a Windows clone of digital recording software, that first was released on the Mac, like Cubase Audio (later VST). And besides that: the quality of audio cards in PC's didn't make us happy either, unless paying 500 dollars or more. While good quality comes built in standard in a Mac. So why spend extra money?

Some time ago, I bought a 233 Mhz Pentium II PC with 128 MB to free my Mac of ugly things like book keeping and writing letters. Just to be sure, we put a SoundBlaster Live! standard audio card (that is without the digital enhancement), so that we would have some piece of good audio hardware. Just in case...

While visiting the Frankfurt Musik Messe in April this year, we discovered that Windows has made a nice leap forward when it comes to ease of use of audio software. We fooled around in most major Windows stands (telling nobody that we were the guys behind this AudioMac site, for obvious reasons ;-). And wonder: we found software that was true easy to use. Could have been written for the  Mac, and it even has some feature we would love to have in our Mac software. We found Vegas Pro, produced by Sonic Foundry.




Vegas Pro is an easy to use and rather quick to learn multi tracker. Both (quick and easy) are of great importance for musicians, who do not want to fizzle around with awkward user interfaces and thousands of features, most of them they will probably never use. What we musicians need is a 1-2-3 software package, that only takes maybe a few hours to learn. Then you can start composing in a proper way, and that is what we musicians want, ladies and gentlemen software producers. Sonic Foundry apparently understands this, as the user interface and thus the ease of use of Vegas Pro is good, without leaving a certain professional level.

Formats.

Vegas Pro supports the most important (be it not all) audio formats needed: .WAV (the Windows audio standard), .AIF (the Macintosh standard) and .MP3 (the rip the CD's standard). Plus .AVI (Windows digital video standard), .MOV (the same for Macs), and .BMP (the Windows standards for bitmapped graphics). Vegas Pro does not support the SDII standard, which is common use in a lot of professional audio studio's, but we can live with the AIF (the second standard in most Mac based studio's). Maybe a good idea for Sonic Foundry to build in SDII support. Further on in this review you will read what the support for digital video formats is good for. For now, we first focus on the audio related features.


* Vegas Pro user interface. You can view the user interface enlarged when you click on the picture. It appears in a
separate window of your browser.


In Vegas Pro, you work with projects. Each project can contain audio and video files, arranged on tracks. So far, nothing special: we know of more multi trackers that can do this. But then it comes:  as stated above, the user interface of Vegas Pro is strong, slick and professional.  

The browser part in the window (bottom left in screenshot above) is one of those features we would like to have in Mac software. It is called the Media Explorer. You can browse your hard disk, looking for audio files you want to use. Then drag and drop the audio file right into the composition window of Vegas on the right spot. Or just double click on the desired audio and it will appear in the chosen track. Very good. I know of course that on a Mac audio can be dragged and dropped from a folder to the application window, but the nice integration we see in Vegas Pro feels better somehow.

Arranging.

When your audio (and maybe) video files are in the project file, you can freely arrange them by moving left to right and between tracks. You also can place the files exactly by using the editing details window, which allows you to enter exact timing parameters by typing. In the Edit Window, all kind of parameters can be site, e.g. if you want to normalize the track or not.


* The Edit Window. Click on the image to see a 1 on 1 version in a separate window.

You even can change the playback tempo with a slider. Volume and Pan envelopes can be made visible on each track. With a mouse click, you add edit points to the envelope, and than pull or push to the desired level or panning. There are also adjustable sliders for volume and panning left of the audio track.


* Envelope editing. Click image to see 1 on 1 screenshot in separate window.

In that part, you will find more buttons, like arming the track for recording, calling up DirectX FX effects (see below), mute and solo. With maximaize and minimize track buttons, you can make more viewing space available for the track you are currently working on. Good.

Each track can be assigned effects. Vegas Pro supports the DirectX plug-in standard, which means that you can use a huge world of plug-ins under Vegas Pro. Within Vegas Pro, the plug-in architecture is called Assignable FX. You can popup a separate window, in which you can determine exactly which plug-ins (yes, it can be more at a time, the so called FX Chains) should be assigned to a track, and in which order.


* The Plug-Ins window.

Normally, you will put a finalize plug-in like L1 UltraMax (by Waves) at the end of the plug-in chain, and all other effects before that. In Vegas Pro, the ranking order is easily made.


* A plug-in activated, Waves TrueVerb in this case. You can view the user interface enlarged when
you click on the picture. It appears in a
separate window of your browser.


The DirectX plug-in works on Windows is enormous. Vegas Pro supports the professional plug-ins, from producers like Waves (like the example above: TrueVerb). to less professional but sometimes very good free plug-ins that can be found on the Internet. My advice: if you want to work in a professional way, stick to the professional plug-ins. The free ones seldom deliver the quality that comes from the professional plug-ins. Sonic Foundry by the way is among the professional producers of plug-ins. Have a look in the plug-in corner of their website

Video.

The mixing console you see above can be exchanged with a video window. You can import an .AVI file (Windows format for digital video, like QuickTime .MOV is on Mac which is supported too). The video appears both in this window and on top of the track window.


* Video editing. Notice the video screen bottom right, and the sequence representation on the top row. The purple audio in the middle is the audio of the video. Click on image for 1 to 1 screenshot in separate window.

The enables you to build audio files under the video very easily, making Vegas Pro a basic but pretty good digital video editor as well. Don't expect fancy stuff as you will find in specialized video software such as Adobe Premiere, but it's good enough to produce a video clip for your music. The video file is basically treated as just another audio track, with all the arranging ease of use.

By the way: the lower part of the user window shown above can be split into three, adding the digital video window. The three windows are free scalable.


* The MP3 plug-in. You can view the user interface enlarged when
you click on the picture. It appears in a
separate window of your browser.


Not an unique feature, but handy it is: making a mp3 file from within the multi track audio application. The MP3 export plug-in that comes with Vegas Pro gives you all flexibility to meat all internet connection demands, from very moderate up to the highest like T1 connections. The quality of the MP3 conversion is plain good. We made the brand new intro tune hidden behind our index page with this plug-in and we can assure you: it sounds just like the original we ripped off a game CD and altered somewhat. Good.


* The Help File. You can view the user interface enlarged when
you click on the picture. It appears in a
separate window of your browser.


Here is another feature we would like to appear in more Mac software: the way the helpfile is organized. It is Windows standard approach. You cab find items through an index, or search the complete help files for keywords. The content of the helpfile depends on the effort of the software producer of course, and we must say that Sonic Foundry did a clear job here. Thanks to this help file, we managed top get Vegas Pro under control pretty quickly.

Technical.

Now for some more technical stuff. First of all, Vegas Pro works with non-destructive editing. This means that your original audio files remain in tact while you trim, cut, paste and assign affects. Vegas Pro supports up to 24bit/96 kHz audio, which brings you highly professional audio quality. Very strong too: Vegas Pro supports multiple file formats and sampling rates on the very same track, thus giving you absolute freedom to be creative. You do not have to convert your files first due to some sampling rate or format limitations. They are simply not there, unless you want to use SDII format. Once again: it would be very wise when Sonic Foundry would support this format in a next version.

Some more of the techno stuff: 32 assignable DirectX FX sends, 26 Master and Aux outputs, simultaneous multi track record and play (you will need an audio card that supports this), advanced auto crass fading, EQ and compressor inserts available at each track. Also nice if you want to present your music on the Internet is the support for not only MP3, but also RealMedia (.RM), Windows Media Audio (.WMA) and Windows Media Format (.ASF). For creating streaming Internet audio, all needed parameters can be set so you can optimize your file(s) for all common internet connections speeds. This makes Vegas Pro a handy tool for online audio stores, or musicians who want to present samples of their work through a website.


* Track EQ and Compressor available for each track, in this example a bass boost.

Rulers are available in a wide range of formats, like SMPTE, Feet & Frames for 16mm and 35mm film, several time framings, and of course samples. This simple but important feature enables you to do professional editing work for most common standards, used in the professional audio and video world. Good thinking.


* Ruler formats.

Conclusion.

Vegas Pro is clearly developed with the end user in mind. A short learning time and thus ease of use, flexibility, simple combination of video and audio, support for streaming internet audio, support for DirectX FX plug-ins, it is all there. Basically, Vegas Pro is all you need to produce your own music and simple video clip, and put the whole thing on the Internet, including some commands to embed within html pages. 

Vegas Pro also is all you need to arrange your CD production. Combined with tools like Sound Forge (see online review), which alter the characteristics of your audio recordings itself, you can build a complete professional editing environment in your PC. If you own such an editor, you can call up this editor from within Waves Pro. Very handy.

If I were you, and I was a regular PC user plus musicians, I'd better go to the Sonic Foundry website and download the 7 days demo and taste for yourself the blessings of this software. It's free.

On a scale of 1 (very bad) to 10 (excellent)  we rate Vegas Pro a 9-. The minus is only for the lack of support of SDII (sorry guys at Sonic Foundry, but we totally addict Mac users love to get it all, even when it's on a Windows platform ;-). Also: pricing of Vegas Pro is very reasonable.

See for latest pricing and more tech info the Sonic Foundry website.


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

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22-05-2000