Alistair McGhee test drives the latest evolution of Steinberg’s audio mastering, editing, and batch processing solution.
‘How much is too much in the business of pro audio?’, I wondered as I meandered through a blog about audio apps for iOS the other day. Had I been drinking tea I might have resprayed my BenQ on coming across the statement that one piece of software was priced ‘at a point that would only be of interest to professionals.’ Thirty dollars. If you are shocked by this appalling price tag you better sit down my friend and pour yourself a stiff drink, and now swallow. Wavelab 8.5 is a forty quid upgrade from version 8.
Now I know what you are thinking – Ronaldo, Messi, Bale they may have £40 in loose change kicking around their wallets, for the rest of us it’s but a distant dream. And anyway what do you get for this outlandish sum of money? An orchestra of drum samples, support for DSD and MP3 on the same track? Well not exactly, the most obvious changes are the addition of watch folders for the batch processor; simultaneous multi-format rendering and an encoder checker for comparing coding quality; and last and maybe least, an onboard AAC encoder.
As Karl Marx would have it, the key to economics is the ownership of the means of production. And for many of us Wavelab 8.5 is certainly a means of production. It is the thing that adds value to the raw material (your audio) in order to produce things of economic value. What Karl wasn’t anticipating was people owning the means of production without actually producing anything, or at least anything worth selling. But in the hard-nosed world of production things that make the crucial output work flow better are worth investing in. And the astute among us will notice that all of Wavelab 8.5’s newness is aimed at better, faster, more flexible output.
My favourite new feature is the real-time encoder checker – probably encoder auditioner gives a better idea of its function. This sits in the new post processing slot in the master section. The idea is that you want to listen to your encoded audio and compare settings before rendering. The obvious gain here is not going round the choose encoder and settings, render, listen, reject, choose encoder, and settings loop.
The encoder checker gives you three slots in which to load your choice MOF encoders complete with individual settings and allows you to seamlessly switch between them and the unprocessed file. Well, mostly seamlessly, there are occasional low level clicks or small jumps but nothing that undermines the usefulness of the tool. And if you really want to give your ears a workout there’s an option to do blind testing where the checker hides which encoder you are listening to but allows you to rate the sound of each encoder using the plus and minus keys on your keyboard. Endless fun for all the family. If like me you are a natural cheat then keep your eye on the compression dialogue, but you didn’t hear it from me.
Next up watch folders. The idea is very simple: you create or designate a folder to be watched and then Wavelab watches it. You define a process for the folder and then anything dropped in it gets processed. Simple, ah but also sophisticated, you can keep the source file or throw away, files unable to be processed are ignored (oops I dropped a spreadsheet in there!) or if they are audio files and cannot be processed then they are sent to a naughty error folder. WL can run a log file so you can check all has gone according to plan and even schedule the processing to suit your timetable. So your playout system wants MPEG2 files at 48kHz, and you have a pile of new songs to process. Set up your process, say loudness normalise to make them play nice together, choose your output format, et voila the watch folder awaits your files.
Once set up you don’t even have to open Wavelab, because the watch folder can be watched in the background and be initialised at start up.
And suppose you are a conscientious type and you want a set of uncompressed files against the day you ditch that crap 1990s tech and throw off the oppression of compression. Well you can quite easily set up a separate watch folder for that.
Or if you are looking for multiple output formats from a file you have already edited and processed you can use another new feature, simultaneous multi-format rendering. This is available in the File or Montage workspaces, and very simply when selecting a file render operation you have the option to make that a multi-format operation. You can control the output folder destination based on the format and those output folders could in turn be watch folders. So for ultimate flexibility you could load and edit your source file, then output the edited file in different formats to different folders where individual watch folder-based processing can be applied. Steinberg even allows you to distribute the processing load across multiple CPU cores for maximum power.
The addition of AAC coding is the last major highlight of the 8.5 release and enables you to encode your audio in all manner of AAC formats, including HE-AAC. One of the biggest advantages of having the AAC coding on board is that when you get down to using your new codec-checking tool then you have access to the world of AAC. You will know what your tunes will sound like on iTunes. In some ways this is making the best of a bad job, really the world deserves to enjoy the audio you have worked so hard on in all its uncompressed glory.
But reality often forces us into compromises, Karl would I’m sure agree. And in this less than perfect world the codec auditioning features of Wavelab 8.5 coupled with the new AAC coding options will help you make the best of things, till the revolution of course.
Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.