Review: Adobe Audition 2.0
A review of Adobe's audio editing software - part of the Adobe Production suite.
Adobe's professional level audio editor benefits nicely from the new design and integration features of these Adobe Production Studio releases. Audition 2.0 shares Production Studio's elastic, unified workspace, with custom workspaces, and useful touches like the tilda (~) key for quickly maximising a highlighted panel to full screen. In terms of design, this is an elegant upgrade, that with all its rounded corners and smooth contours looks more ergonomic, but also that does away with the on-screen clutter that marred the previous version of Audition. Much of the cleaner look in Audition 2.0 is achieved through better use of toggle buttons and tabs - mainstays of Adobe product design. The only drawback with such a flexible workspace is that it's easy to inadvertently obscure some of the controls, especially before you've familiarised yourself with them.
A less fussy interface doesn't mean less choice. Quite the opposite. For example, in Audition's multitrack view (called Main), where you organise your various clips, there are improved controls for volume, pan and effects settings for each track.
You can now see at a glance a numeric reading for the level for each track and individual tracks have their own level metres as well. There are many ways to adjust volume and pan for a track, by sliding the number reading up or down, typing in a new level, or twiddling the volume button. As with other Adobe products, hotkey support is generally good, at least until you drill down to very specific panels for effects settings. For example, in multi-track view, while holding the shift or control key and adjusting the volume with your mouse, you can slide the level up fast or adjust it fractionally.
Audition 2.0 also has a new Scrub tool which mimics the effect of manually rotating the wheels of analogue audio. You can listen to the audio at faster or slower rate by dragging your mouse across the audio. It's a useful feature for finding an elusive point in your work by ear, or selecting edit points on a track.
"Automation envelopes" and "track automation lanes"
What are envelopes? They are for changing the attributes of sound over time and they're an important part of Audition 2.0. Working with "clip automation envelopes", you set two edit points for the pan or volume and the software will interpolate and change the volume between the two points over time. So in the multitrack view, you click on the volume line on your clip (sometimes called a rubber band), set an in-point and then drag the existing outpoint down to zero, and Audition automatically creates a fade-out for you. By adding "splines" to the envelope, you can give your clip more of an arced volume change rather than an even, linear change over time.
In spite of the sometimes opaque jargon, as with other Production Studio programs, Audition's keyframe control is good. This is illustrated well when using Audition 2.0's Mixer panel. The mixer, reached quickly via a tab above the multitrack, is one of the highlights of Audition 2.0 with excellent control and easy access to the Effects Rack. Here you can make low-latency, live mixes if your card has ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) support, the default audio driver used in Audition 2.0. Slower PC cards without ASIO support (mine) still suffer latency. These panels, and the similarly looking Mastering Panel, again reflect some excellent design thinking behind this upgrade, marrying control with ease-of-use.
Making real time edits to your tracks in Mixer is a matter of arming tracks for record and then changing settings dynamically using Audition's virtual (or an attached hardware) mixing desk. Once you've completed a live mix, you can make further adjustments back in multitrack view if you need to finesse the edits. Clicking on the little triangle in the bottom left corner of a track opens up the "track automation lanes" like a trap door. You can add multiple track automation lanes for precise keyframe control for volume, pan and effects over the course of the track, and if you've just completed a live edit you'll see Audition has already created edit points based on your live edit. The only quibble here is that there is no bezier or spline control for smoother transitions between edit points.
As throughout Production Studio, the filters and effects come with a variety of presets to get you going, and provide a good starting point for creating your own custom presets. Take the new Multiband Compressor from iZotope: it's great for either minor adjustments in the mastering process or mashing your audio up like a club DJ. You can choose a suitable preset, perhaps one that focuses on the vocal or snare drum range, or one that beefs up a voice-over for internet delivery, or you might be looking to generate a thin "Indie Lofi" quality from your original audio. You can start with the preset, and adapt it as you see fit. It's worth noting that Audition accepts many third party DirectX and VST plugins.
Audition comes with piles of loops - from funky drum beats to rockabilly tremolo guitar, hammond organ to jaw harp. You can create some impressive compositions, literally in minutes, when you start mixing up these tiny little clips in the multitrack view. It gets better when you start bringing in your own recordings via microphones, decks, players, files, and MIDI devices (using a MIDI application). Audition 2.0' offers good flexibility in how you route audio to buses, sends and the master track. For example, by grouping a set of tracks, say all your drum beats, you can send them to the same bus where you apply effects collectively thereby saving your system extra work. Audition 2.0 supports unlimited tracks, with up to 16 sends per track, and supports output to multiple buses. If you need it, there is support for 96 live inputs and outputs.
You can now also import and export the Ogg Vorbis audio format and embed BWF timestamps for use in broadcast applications.
In Audition's Edit view (you double click on a file in your multitrack panel to bring it up), you can add effects and clean up clips, like pops and clicks in your audio. While effects and edits made in multitrack view don't make any permanent change to your original file, changes made in edit view are "destructive" - you permanently change your original file.
In the "spectral view", which displays your clip as a colourful visual spectrum of sound, you can do some impressive audio cleaning with a new lasso tool. You select an element by drawing around it and then cut and paste your audio. It's a useful addition to the marquee tool, which you use for effecting square or rectangular shaped areas of your clip.
Third view: burning CDs
You might be a making CD, perhaps a soundtrack compilation. This is where you move to Audition's third, CD view, which again shares the program's user-friendly design. It is as easy as dragging and dropping your clips into place and clicking "write CD" to create a Red Book industry standard disc including features like pausing between tracks and adding an ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) id. In CD view, you can rip from existing CDs or add copy protect to your output content. New features in Audition 2.0 also allow you to store CD track lists which you can draw on and modify for later copies, and you can now burn up to 99 copies at once.
Integration with Adobe Production Studio
Adobe have enhanced the video support in Audition: you can import/export in AVI, MPEG, QuickTime and WMV formats and you can launch audio from directly in Premiere Pro and After Effects to edit in Audition even if you didn't create the original in Audition. Thanks to Adobe's Dynamic Link feature any updates to audio files created in Audition are automatically reflected back in the other programs.
Audition carries a single dedicated video track and a preview monitor so that you can do an audio mix in synch with your footage as it plays. The footage on the video track shows up as a thumbnail, to help navigate to a relevant spot. Very handy.
If you plan on distributing your work, Adobe Illustrator 2.0, part of the Studio package, comes with an impressive selection of templates for CD labels, CD sleeves and publicity material.
Audition 2.0 is a great move forward on the previous version, particularly in its new look and feel. It is more than up to the task for most film and video projects and greater integration with Premiere Pro 2.0 and After Effects 7.0 can only make life easier.