“I just need to edit some audio. What software should I use?” You hear this question all the time, and there’s rarely a good, simple answer. (Yes, there’s the open source program Audacity, but it’s got major functionality missing, a kludgy interface that’s hard on beginners, and some stability issues. It’s hardly the best open source has to offer.) Adobe is working on a solution for Mac and Windows they’re calling Soundbooth.

Soundbooth won’t be released until early next year, but when it does hit, it could finally be the basic entry-level audio editor for which Mac and Windows users have been looking. The coming months will tell. Here, we’ll preview its functionality in a pre-release, feature incomplete state.

Acquisitions are often bad omens for software products, but in the case of Adobe purchasing Cool Edit Pro and transforming it into Audition, good things have been happening. Audition 2.0 is currently my audio editor of choice on any platform: it’s got a great interface, lots of powerful effects, multitrack capabilities that will nonetheless get out of your way when you don’t want them, strong roundtrip workflows with Premiere (something that still doesn’t work quite right in Soundtrack/Final Cut), and fantastic editing tools including a full editable spectrum view.

Audition is a terrific editor, but it’s also overkill for lots of people — just like most audio editors on the market. Enter Soundbooth:

Adobe Soundbooth

This sums up the goals: “While Adobe Audition is designed to give audio professionals in music, film, video, and radio a flexible audio production toolkit that can handle a broad range of audio engineering tasks, Adobe Soundbooth is focused on creative professionals without audio expertise, or those who prefer an application focused on making short work of the most common tasks they handle every day.”

In other words, it’s Audition for graphic artists.

There are clearly some features missing, but for basic work it’s already quite usable. Here’s a look at what it can do currently:

Working with Soundbooth Beta

The basic interface is almost identical to Adobe Audition and the other Adobe media apps. That’s a good thing: while Apple has claimed that its pro apps work the same way, you’ll notice that Motion, Final Cut, Soundtrack, and Logic are all quite different. Adobe has nailed the consistency and, for me at least, the interface is very usable and attractive. Most importantly, the scroll wheel zooms — a long-time favorite feature from Cool Edit.

The history palette, a la Photoshop and Apple Soundtrack, lets you easily step through different tasks.

The history tab lets you step forwards and backwards through the edits you’ve made to an audio file, just as in Photoshop — a feature I expect we’ll see soon in Audition. Apple’s Soundtrack does this, and unlike Audition, it can also selectively enable and disable “action layers” for trying what-if scenarios with different combinations of effects. The simpler feature here, though, is very functional, and unlike Soundtrack, all your edits are immediate — no multiple rendering required, making Soundbooth far more usable in practice.

Here’s what most average audio users need to do: open up a file, fix problems. If you can spend the extra on a more serious tool, it’ll be worth it, but these options could serve the casual user well.

The noise reduction features are also very reminiscent of Soundtrack. Noise, clicks & pops, and rumble features already let you handle most restoration tasks, even in this early beta. Audition has more extensive options, but that’s the point: the controls are very simple and easy to follow, as opposed to the potentially overwhelming options in Audition.

Some audio tools require you to open up a dialog box just to adjust a fade curve; Soundbooth lets you drag, which is a lot more logical.

The best thing about Soundbooth currently is the smart editing features. Normalization, fade in/out, and amplify settings are all right on the toolbar where they should be. The fade and amplify controls in editing are the real draw, though: drag on audio to amplify it, with a live preview of the waveform and numeric amplify readout. Drag a fade left and right to adjust its length, and up and down to adjust its curve. You’ll wonder why all audio editors (including Adobe Audition) don’t work this way.

Looking at a sound file in terms of its spectrum makes it easier to isolate problems and make edits. Some audio editors’ spectral views are read-only, without edit capability, but Soundbooth borrows the editing tools from Adobe’s Audition.

Soundbooth also borrows the excellent spectral view from Audition. Other apps have had spectral views, but it’s the editing tools in this view that stand out. Click “Remove a Sound” from Tasks, and you can directly edit the sound in the spectral view. You can marquee or lasso frequencies as if working in a graphics tool, for fine-tuning removal of certain frequencies or certain sounds. If you’ve ever struggled to remove a pop in the standard waveform view in most audio editors, you’ll be right at home. This feature alone should make Soundbooth a must-download if you don’t already have Audition. Soundbooth even has an auto-heal function in its sound removal settings. If Adobe would just add a paint on feature as in the graphical Mac-only sound app MetaSynth, I’d be in heaven.

(Note: the best tool in Audition, the lasso tool, isn’t yet implemented in this beta, but it looks as though Soundbooth’s lasso will work exactly the same as its counterpart feature in Audition.)

Effects in this release are bare-bones: delay, chorus/flanger (something you probably would never need in this kind of app), compressor, and “vocal enhancer” (not actually sure what that last one does, but it has “gender” and “music” settings so I’m guessing EQ). I expect we’ll see the effects fleshed out in future versions. (Now this is curious: the fx button looks like the Flash logo. Does Adobe know something they’re not telling us, or is that just coincidence?)

Music for dummies?

One curious feature is Soundbooth’s “automatic composition” settings, which seem to take a cue from the music-faking capabilities of rival A/V software giant Sony Cinescore. I was unable to test this feature because the sample files weren’t downloading correctly from Adobe Labs’ overtaxed server. The features look well-implemented; the more fundamental problems I have are that a) automatically-generated music never sounds like anything other than automatically-generated music, b) creatives are always trying to get out of hiring composers and musicians even when they have sizable budgets — darned cheapskates, and c) this is drawing attention from other features. With more interactive loop-based music creation in tools like Acid and GarageBand, and Sony’s own Cinescore, it seems like Adobe should concentrate on Soundbooth as an excellent starter-level audio editor — a niche that isn’t filled by other products and would fit a wider audience.

Where Soundbooth Could Go Next

I hope that in the coming months, Soundbooth gets more-robust editing tools. I don’t yet see tools for cross-fading when you make cuts, or other slicing and editing tools. Adobe could make these as intuitive as they made the fade in and fade out features, and this functionality would be useful to everyone, not just pros. More effects are clearer needed, as well — who needs a flanger, when more useful EQ settings would accomplish more? And Soundbooth would benefit from more presets, especially for features like the compressor, which regularly baffle the beginner Adobe is trying to court. But this is an early beta, so I don’t expect to see everything just yet. I just hope Adobe spends time on those features and not on dumping a lot of useless automatic music generation content into Soundbooth instead.

Where things get interesting is the way in which Soundbooth could do things other audio editors don’t. Already in this beta, Soundbooth includes video import capability and markers. What’s so great about that? Try XML export to Flash cues you can use in a Flash file. Adobe says you can use cues to trigger animations. Flash integration could also let animators use Soundbooth as their recording tool for animation. I’d like to see more Flash integration, like being able to jump to Soundbooth markers from within Flash using the XML marker export, and being able to import Flash files for scoring in Soundbooth. (And, of course, Adobe should add these features to Audition, as well, for people who do need its “pro” features.)

Adobe also has an opportunity to focus on the way people actually use audio apps, including recording. You can already add markers while recording (huge timesaver). Now, for the beginner/consumer market, Adobe should add the ability to record audio from other Mac and Windows applications. Trust me, Adobe: the zillion users of Skype, people doing software training, and anyone who wants to capture app audio will thank you.

Conclusions

I already think Soundbooth is a gorgeous app with a lot of potential. It’s easily worth downloading, because the nature of audio editors is that you don’t have to save project files when you’re done. In other words, you have a terrific free audio tool you can use until the beta expires early next year. At the very least, Soundbooth should fill a gap in the market for a basic, cross-platform audio editor, especially if Adobe prices it aggressively upon release. They have an opportunity to correct the mistakes Apple made with Soundtrack, namely, release a great audio tool, fail to evangelize it as such, then discontinue the standalone version in favor of a bundle with a video product. (CDM’s readers were extremely disappointed by those moves.) At best, Soundbooth could be a killer tool via integration with Flash and other features we haven’t seen yet.

Soundbooth isn’t going to take much away from the far more powerful tools in Audition, which can do end-to-end production, integrate with Premiere, and produce CDs and multitrack and surround work. But if these features are a glimpse of the next upgrade of Audition, both apps are headed in a good direction. And it’s very nice to see Adobe going cross-platform again.

I look forward to watching Soundbooth’s progress over the coming months and seeing if it lives up to its potential. Stay tuned.

  • http://www.twofloorsrecords.com thewhiteline

    It's a really nice UI and I agree that Audtion is pretty much the sound editor of choice. But Soundbooth is lacking a few really usefull features such as: SRC, snap selection to zero crossing, and it didn't read the sustaining loop from my WAV file. If they add those 3 things this could be a killer.

    I hope that making the Mac version Intel-only, i.e. non-Universal is not a trend to come….

  • Thomas

    I would give my left arm for a Mac version of Sound Forge, the mother of all professional audio editors.

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  • someone

    When i think of how much i've invested over the years in Logic and realize i don't even have a decent basic sound editor to show for it i cringe.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Whiteline, I agree. Snap selection to zero crossing (or some other way of fixing zero crossing after edit) is just as key if they're aiming this at beginners, because beginners are going to say, hey, why am I getting that pop?

    I actually like the current version of Audition better than Sound Forge, just because of its extra capabilities, but I agree — both great editors.

    As for Logic, I'm hoping Logic 8 will bundle Soundtrack. Integrated audio editors are never that great, but bundling Soundtrack should be a no brainer. Not that many Logic owners are going to run out and buy Final Cut Studio just for a wave editor.

  • thesimplicity

    Great write-up.

    For such an early beta, I'm impressed. I have to say that I really like that razor thing and the fade and amplify controls are fantastic. If they package this into a fast binary (the launch time on my PC was the same as Audition 1.5), throw in overlap pasting (or maybe it's there already and I missed it?), and the noise reduction profiles from Audition I'll be really happy.

  • don

    peak used to be awesome, but the latest version is totally unusable, at least on my intel mac.

    it's super buggy and unstable.

    i have to use sound studio, which is really basic, but gets the job done.

  • http://www.curved-air.com actuel

    Wave Editor by AudioFile-Engineering deserves a nod me thinks. WE impresses me because it can be a simple editor if you need it to be but yet it is as totally full-featured as any editor i've ever used at the same time. DSP-Quattro squashed Peak for me, and WE squashed DSP.

    Soundbooth looks nice. I downloaded yesterday and played with for an hour. I love the look and interface but is really just lacking so many features…and maybe this is its purpose, simple.

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  • raz neal

    been using sound forge for 5 years in a pro facility, blows anything else away. cool edit was a kiddie program. or we use our sadie….

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    Peter wrote: "Adobe should add the ability to record audio from other Mac and Windows applications."

    Peter, Peter, Peter: I know that you know JACK! The idea that you add this type of functionality to each and every program that might benefit from it is silly. JACK is here for OS X already, and it runs on Windows too in an unreleased version. With JACK, *any* Mac or Windows app can exchange audio data in any configuration with any other Mac or Windows app (assuming the apps don't abuse the CoreAudio or ASIO spec).

    Please don't advocate adding such stuff to individual apps – its a system architecture issue, not a per-app issue. It would also be nice if all those people who *might* pay for this app instead paid 50% of that to Audacity and thus helped get that application up to the standards you all would like it get to.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Paul, I'm all for JACK on the Mac as you know and eagerly, eagerly anticipate JACK's availability on Windows. Some of the interapp audio capabilities are already built into the architecture in Windows and just await an application hooking into them. (Incidentally, Audacity on Windows already supports this function.) I agree that architectural-level solutions are the best in the long term, but developers like Adobe don't even seem to consider this a key feature. I would love to see a JACK-aware Soundbooth, for instance.

    Also, while I think open source is a wonderful thing, I do believe people are entitled to invest money in non-open source projects if they so choose. In the case of JACK, the open source technology will benefit everyone, and I do encourage people to donate there.

  • http://www.chipcollection.com Sammy Taters

    I thought soundbooth was awesome. First it crashed alot on my intelmac. It was also the fucking slowest audio editor I've ever used. BUT it managed to clean up some audio I was having problems with and it helped me boost some levels really well. I think the sound is professional. I wish it worked like Sample manager on the mac, so I could do batch stuff…but I didnt check that out yet. I like it. I hope they keep it free.

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  • http://eshefer.com eshefer

    ehem.. ahem.. ah?

    did I miss something here or is there really no mp3 file import/output support?

    without this this program is usless. period. if you need another program to export/import mp3 files, the simplified workflow is worth absolute ziltch.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Adobe hasn't released ANY feature lists for Soundbooth. They have said, specifically, that they're only releasing a subset of the functionality to users. In my experience, the program has been very stable, so my sense is what they did was to make a "preview" build containing features that were largely complete and leave out everything else. (Note that I did NOT test the Mac build, because I only have PowerPC Macs, so I wasn't able to reproduce Sammy's issues above.)

    These are just first impressions of what's there, nothing more. We'll have a chance to give Soundbooth a real test next year, when we'll know what features Adobe has planned for it.

  • http://eshefer.com eshefer

    The term "beta software" usualy implies a feature compleate release which needs debuging – hence my rather hasty remark.

    though in this day and age "beta" software can mean everything from feature incompleate buggy alpha code to production grade released product, depending on the company, market and climet.

    I haven't played with it enough to form an opinion (other then "ugh! no mp3, it's useless for my current project!").

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    You're completely right, and "beta" is becoming meaningless. I had to double-check I didn't dub that, but in fact, Adobe calls this a beta. It's really more accurately a product preview, which they explain in the FAQ.

    Compare, for instance, Adobe Labs' Flash 9 Player, which is feature complete and already quite solid and reliable, and even suggested for use in serious work even given its beta status.

    My sense with Soundbooth is that we'll see some very significant changes. Perhaps Adobe will be nice enough to even give us another preview. But "beta", it's really not.

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  • Billy Howard

    how do you open an mp3 file in soundbooth?

  • Gwillmeister

    Cool Edit was one of the best sound programs of it time and now is Audition 2.0 and thats probably the best of its time. I pity those who think SONY Sound Forge is the way to go. Now Come on. Sony. Anyway the look of this program is ok, i guess but do they have to mould this look with Audition? now its all harder to navigate. The old Cool Edit Pro 2.0 look was much better.

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  • Adam

    Absolute rubbish.

    This program went from feature rich (back in the CoolEdit Pro days) to absolutely piss poor. This is a flashing looking Hyundai for the price of a decked-out Benz.

  • adam 2

    hey am looking for a software that can split music in which i mean the singers voice can be slit from the music and have it by itself or vies versa you know the software that they have on t.v. all the time were the cop is sitting with the computer guy and says "wait wait what is that noise in the background can you isolate it and get rid of the ground noise" and that the computer guy go ya i can do that bla bla bla

    can any one help me with this all i would liketo now is some names of the software for a mac as well please thanks