Having made its name with applications such as Photoshop and InDesign, 2003 saw Adobe step into the computer music arena with Audition. This wasn't a new app, but a rebranded version of Cool Edit, which started life as a sample editor, and, by the time Adobe took it on, had sprouted multitrack audio capability.
Now at version 3, is Audition ready to achieve the industry standard status that many of its stablemates enjoy?
Audition has two main views, Edit and Multitrack, while a third offers CD compiling and burning. Each uses Adobe’s customisable workspace interface, enabling you to arrange panels as you like.
In the Edit view, there are four ways to display and edit audio destructively, the default being the standard Waveform Display. Next is the colourful Spectral Frequency Display, with frequency represented on the Y axis and colour intensity indicating level. You can select specific frequency ranges with the Marquee, Lasso and Effects Paintbrush tools and edit them as you would in the Waveform Display, altering the level (this is made easier with the new pop-up gain knob), copying/pasting, applying effects, and so on. This can be used for restorative or creative work.
The Effects Paintbrush is new for v3, enabling you to brush over the audio to make a selection, with multiple brushstrokes increasing the opacity, determining the intensity of effects applied. Also new is the Spot Healing Brush: brush over artifacts or unwanted sounds and Audition removes them using its (pre-existing) Click/Pop Eliminator routine.
Next are two new - and very pretty - views for stereo material: Spectral Pan and Spectral Phase. These show the panning and phase of frequencies present, although it can be hard to make sense of them with more complex material. Like the Spectral Frequency Display, you can make selections, then cut/copy, attenuate, apply effects, etc, and hear the range in isolation. Previewing selections can exhibit 'bubbly' FFT artifacts, as can brutal edits, but good results are possible with less severe processing.
As the manual suggests, the Spectral Pan Display works well in conjunction with the excellent (though not new) Center Channel Extractor effect. The latter is designed to spectrally isolate or remove audio from any pan/phase position.
With a bit of experimentation, we were able to load up a live Grant Green jazz track, use the Spectral Pan Display to discern the panning of the recording's three mics, and then use the Center Channel Extractor to 'decompose' it into vibes, drum overhead and guitar/bass tracks. Heard in isolation, artifacts were evident, but when recombined in the Multitrack view, these diminished (rather than accumulated) and it sounded surprisingly satisfactory. We could then 'remix' the song!
The results depend on the source material, but we had success in pulling out Sinead O'Connor's vocals on The Women Of Ireland; extracting gnarly synths from a Sub Focus track; and separating the music and vocals on Chas and Dave's seminal Snooker Loopy, so that we could add the 'snooker hall reverb' that we always felt was missing in the sing-along chorus.
Elsewhere, you can now convert image files to audio (and vice versa, oddly), although an option to export the spectral displays in a high-res image format would be novel, as they make great abstract graphics.
Onto the Multitrack view, and while this is no substitute for heavyweight DAWs like Cubase, Logic, Sonar, et al, it's capable nevertheless. You can apply effects (including VST/DX plug-ins) and EQ per channel, use bus channels, automate parameters, and drop in video clips. New features include automatic timestretching of clips to your project (v3 has improved timestretching, courtesy of iZotope) and auto-crossfading.
Most importantly, v3 marks the introduction of MIDI and VST instrument support. For starters, you get a couple of (very weak) synths and a SoundFont player, and while you can indeed insert MIDI Tracks and edit MIDI in a piano roll, there's a fundamental law in Adobe's MIDI implementation.
Rather than having MIDI clips that you arrange and edit (as you do with audio, say), MIDI Tracks appear as faceless blue bars in the arrangement view - basically one big, fat clip. You have little idea what MIDI is placed where in your project unless you have the separate sequencer panel on display too, and there's no way to arrange your parts besides copying/pasting the notes manually!
Other sticking points are that the tail of a reverb or delay applied in the Edit view doesn't extend past the selection. Additionally, there are now six delays and four reverbs, but some are outdated hangovers from the Cool Edit days, and should be relegated to a 'legacy' effects bin. Similar comments could be levelled at some of the other effects categories.
The destructive nature of the Edit view can also be unwieldy if you're doing in-depth work - it'd be great if you could render edits to selected ranges, but be able to go back and tweak and re-render them later. A bit like Photoshop's Layers and History functions, in fact.
One bonus is Adobe's Loopology disc, which harbours over 5GB of samples. There's
a disc of tutorial videos for Adobe products too, but alas, Audition isn't one of them.
There's a heck of a lot to Audition 3, and as a sample editor in particular, it's most impressive and comprehensive, with some unique features.
As a multitrack audio application it's good too, but not as slick and feature-rich as the established DAWs. Then again, those apps can't hold a candle to Audition when it comes to sample editing.
Adobe has shot itself in the foot with the somewhat crippled MIDI implementation, though, which was potentially the most essential new feature for Audition 3. This will surely come as disappointment all those who were looking forward to it.