Steinberg Wavelab 3

Audio Editor & Sound Processor

Published in SOS March 2000
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The latest upgrade to Wavelab, whichtakes the program to version 3.0, boasts only one major new feature -- but it's a killer. Martin Walker is stunned by the possibilities.

It's now been over 18 months since the last major upgrade to PC-based audio editor Wavelab, but as with version 1.6 (which introduced CD writing and real-time plug-ins) and version 2.0 (featuring looping, file analysis, and support for samplers) version 3.0 has been well worth waiting for. Experienced users of the software won't be disorientated when they first launch the updated version, since at first sight there are no obvious differences, apart from some subtle use of textured backgrounds. Look further and you should notice a host of small additions and improvements (see the 'Smaller Tweaks' box opposite) but there is only one major new feature: the Audio Montage window.

If you've already looked at the publicity blurb on the Steinberg web site you could be forgiven for thinking that this new window simply gives Wavelab the ability to mix multiple digital audio tracks together, but it does far more than that. In fact, it's only exaggerating a little to compare the Audio Montage function with Sonic Foundry's entire Vegas Pro multitrack recording/editing package (reviewed in the November '99 issue of SOS). Audio Montage may only be a single feature as far as Wavelab is

STEINBERG
WAVELAB 3.0
£399
pros
Incredible number of options in the new Audio Montage window.
Unlimited number of tracks and Clips.
Easy-to-use single-window interface.
Many smaller additions and improvements.
cons
Multiple soundcards are not supported.
Display of multiple vectors can be confusing.
summary
With the new Audio Montage feature Wavelab 3.0 does everything anyone could ever want from a WAV-editing program, and a lot more besides!

concerned, but as far as the user is concerned it offers enough possibilities to keep you engrossed for months.

Panes And Pleasure

The new window is essentially a non-destructive editor for multiple audio files, and is split into two panes. The lower pane (the Track View) always shows one or more mono or stereo Tracks, each of which can contain an unlimited number of shorter 'Clips'. Each Clip is essentially a reference to a file on your hard drive, as well as a start and end position within it, so it's possible to assemble a Track comprising several complete audio files, or lots of shorter snippets extracted from them. The same audio snippets can be used as many times as desired, making it easy, for example, to create a looped backing track or repeat choruses at various points in a song.

The upper pane of the Audio Montage window is multi-functional and contains a staggering 11 different Views, chosen by clicking on one of the tabs at its top, or by using keyboard shortcuts. Each of these Views also has its own mini-toolbar, with functions specific to that View. I'll cover all these options later on; first I want to describe how songs can be arranged using Tracks and Clips.

Keeping Track Of Clips

Creating an Audio Montage starts with a single stereo track in the Track View. A sample rate must be specified, but there's no need to specify bit depth, as multiple depths are supported in a single track. Further mono or stereo tracks can be created at will, each track having a Mute and a Solo button, plus a tiny Fold/Unfold icon (like other Wavelab windows) to squash the track down out of the way when you want to see lots of tracks simultaneously.

Files can be inserted into the current track from a hard drive, cut and pasted from Wavelab windows, or even dragged across from other Montage or Wave windows. Each track is numbered, and clicking on its number opens a menu with a set of options, including Inserting a new track (mono or stereo, above or below the existing one), Moving the selected track up or down, Splitting a stereo track into two Mono ones for individual editing and treatment, Cloning (duplicating) the track beneath the existing one, or Deleting it. Record At Cursor lets you create new Clips 'in situ',

  Smaller Tweaks  
  Wavelab 3.0 benefits from many small improvements in addition to the major extra functionality of the Audio Montage window. Here are some of them:

The recording dialogue has been completely overhauled, with many new options, such as the audio level-sensitive Start on Sound, the similar Stop On Silence, and Auto Stop after a certain duration. There is automated marker generation (at every silence and/or pause), and you can pause at any time and discard the recording so far. The metering has also been updated to bring it into line with the Audio Montage window.

Each open window has a tab on the new Document Switch Bar at the bottom of the display. Clicking on one of these tabs brings the chosen window to the front and is far quicker than using the Crtl-F6 key combination, especially when some windows are behind others.

A 'Mode Jog & Shuttle' icon on the Toolbar lets you drag the audio forwards or backwards (just like tape past a tape head) at any speed from 4x forwards to 4x backwards.

A new pencil Tool allows parts of waveforms to be redrawn directly. Removing a few clicks in this way can sometimes be quicker and easier than using a click-removal algorithm, and of course you have no worries about the rest of the file being altered in any way.

MP3 encoding is available, using a licensed Fraunhofer algorithm.

Playback can now be synchronised to MIDI timecode.

There is a new high-quality timestretch/pitch-shift engine (Time Bandit).

* Coding optimisations are carried out automatically, based on the specific processor being used (Pentium II, Pentium III, Pentium MMX, or Pentium Pro).

 
and you can colour any Clip or track for identification purposes. Above the tracks is the Ruler, whose markings can be in Clocks, Samples, Timecode, or Meter (bars and beats). A Time Grid can be superimposed on the Clip background area to help you line things up.

Once one Clip is positioned in a track, further Clips can be added in a variety of ways. Add/Mix drops them at the cursor position, over the top of any existing Clips (unless they only partly overlap, in which case an automatic crossfade is generated). Split/Insert drops the new Clip at the cursor position, but automatically splits an existing, longer Clip at the cursor position and repositions the remainder after the end of the new Clip. Various other options exist for shifting every later Clip along to automatically make room for the inserted one.

Leave The Mouse On Its Zone

The key to understanding the numerous editing options available in the Track View is the concept of 'Mouse Zones'. There are six possible Mouse Zones in total, which split the waveforms into four horizontal strips termed 'Clip Areas' (Top Clip, Upper Clip, Lower Clip, and Bottom Clip). The start and end points of each Clip have both an Upper Clip Edge and a Lower Clip Edge. As you move the cursor about in the Track View its icon changes to indicate the current function. For example, if the mouse is in the Top Clip Area you will be able to copy a Clip by dragging it, while the Upper Clip Area is for selecting a time range. The Lower Clip Area allows a Clip to be selected or moved, as does the Bottom Clip Area. Both Upper and Lower Clip Edges default to letting you resize either the start or end of a Clip. Everything seems user-configurable in Wavelab, though, and all these default functions can be changed to suit your way of working.

The Info line (a dark horizontal strip immediately beneath the Track View) displays the mouse options available in each zone as you move the mouse about, which makes it easier to understand the many options. For instance, a '1' on the Info line denotes a function available with a single left-mouse click, and a '2' the function available with a double click, while 'A', 'C', and 'S' indicate that further options are available via simultaneous pressing of the Alt, Ctrl, or Shift keys. An 'M' indicates that a further menu can be summoned with a right click. It can be a bit daunting at first, but at least you have instant visual feedback of all the possible options.

The Mouse Zone right-click menus contain many further options, such as Split At Cursor, Delete Clip, and Cut, Copy and Paste. Repeat Clip lets you quickly fill a track with the selected Clip, via a pop-up dialogue box that asks you to specify how many clones will be created. The selected Clip could, alternatively, be set to repeat until the current cursor position. Repeats can also be placed one immediately after the other or with a specified gap between them, and sections of a Clip may be Erased, Muted (with the envelope function -- more on this later), or Trimmed to leave a selected area only.

Slotting In Effects

You can add between one and 10 'Effect Slots' to any Clip, and each Slot can hold any VST-specific plug-in (including the entire AutoGate, AutoLevel, Compress, SoftClip, and Limit chain from the latest versions of Cubase VST). A send level is available where appropriate, and this can be automated. Another bonus is that processor power is only used when the Clip is actually playing -- a real saving! However, you can't use Wavelab or DirectX plug-ins for Clips, although up to six such plug-ins can still be chained inside the Master Section, as in previous versions of Wavelab.

Version 3.0 adds some neat touches, including some clever Clip effects-routing options. The default setting is 'Route to Master Section', but by placing two clips next to one another in the Track View pane, you can make use of the 'Route to Master section and upper track' or 'Route to upper track only' options. These extra routings can come in handy if you have a multiple-input plug-in, such as Ducker, which comes with Wavelab. For example, if you put a music Clip on track 1 and assign the Ducker plug-in to it, then place a voice Clip on track 2 and use the 'Route to Master Section and upper track' routing, the voiceover will duck the music. Of course, you could use any multiple-input VST plug-in with this routing, such as a vocoder or gate with side-chain input. Aside from the routing options, there's also the handy 'Tail' setting of up to 30 seconds, so you can have an effect gracefully fade out after the end of a Clip. This is particularly useful with reverb and echo.

Vector Automation

Comprehensive vector automation is available for volume and pan, as well as for any Effect Slots that have a send level. The default setting displays only the fade/level vector lines, but you can add pan or effect vector displays as required, or use the 'Only show one envelope at a time' setting to avoid confusion.

  Wavelab Reviews In SOS  
  August 1996: version 1.01.
February 1997: version 1.5.
October 1997: version 1.6.
June 1998: version 2.0.
The program was also featured in 'Audio Editing On The PC' in the March 1997 issue.
 

When Clips are butted together they are automatically given 20mS fades in both directions, to prevent clicks caused by sudden changes of level. By default these fade-in and fade-out points are already displayed at the beginning and end of each Clip, and you can drag them in the appropriate direction to quickly create longer fades (the waveform is even resized to indicate the audible result). A selection of preset fade shapes is available, and custom shapes may be created too.

You can add points to each vector, drag their levels up and down, and mute a selection (both ends drop to a gain of –144dB). There are lots of useful options, such as envelope smoothing to replace hard edges of edits with more gentle curves. You can also grab an entire envelope and drag it up or down to make global changes to volume, position or effect level.

Automation is certainly comprehensive, but the addition of some global on/off display options would make life easier, as would global line colours to differentiate between level, pan and effects send vectors.

A Fine Selection Of Views

Now that we've covered the Tracks View it's time to describe the 11 options in the upper pane of the Audio Montage window.

Edit View (see the screenshot on page 104): an overview of the whole Montage, with Clips displayed as solid rectangular boxes which can be coloured to help with differentiation. The section of the Montage currently displayed in the Track View beneath is shown as an outline box (the Track View Rectangle), and you can zoom this in or out, or drag it to another section of the Montage. Single-clicking on another Clip box in the Edit View moves the rectangle and horizontally resizes it. Double-clicking on a Clip box resizes in the vertical direction as well. The Edit View tools provide a set of options which includes Select, Nudge, Snap and various flavours of automatic Clip Crossfading. The last allows you to define what Clips will do when dragged across each other: you can decide to crossfade them, superimpose them, or force the overlap to slide 'over' or 'under' the existing Clip.

Zoom View: displays a close-up of the junction between the selected Clip and the adjacent one, to help you join them together. A Snap function helps you

butt them together with no gaps, and -- even better -- Zoom can also scan the audio to the left of the splice point, to find the best possible phase match

and avoid harmonic cancellation when overlapping Clips.

Clips View: shows every currently loaded Clip in a text list complete withits name, which track it's on, its start and end times, length, and so on. Here you can individually adjust Clip gain, audition or mute Clips, or reorder them using drag and drop. If you want to move and edit several Clips as one entity, you can group them together in the Group View.

Files View: displays either a list of each currently used Clip, along with details of its source file and path, or the contents of your hard drive. In this View you can display either audio files or audio Clips, audition files using the Play or AutoPlay functions, and drag files directly into the Tracks View beneath (this is one of the easiest ways to start assembling a Montage).

Markers View: provides a list of every type of marker currently used in the Montage. The wide range of markers included in previous versions of Wavelab is still available (Generic, Temporary, Loop Start and End, CD track Start and End, CD track boundary, and CD track Index). There are also three new ones: Mute Start and Mute End can be used to

temporarily silence any section of a Clip, and Playback Starter is a new option for 'Playback start position' in the transport bar.

CD View: a rather more advanced version of the CD Program function first seen in Wavelab 1.6. It allows a track list to be created, ready for directly burning CDs from a Montage. This is an absolute doddle with the help of the CD Wizard dialogue -- as long as you have valid Clips more than four seconds long, clicking on the Apply button automatically generates CD Track Markers, precedes each Clip by a standard-length pause (normally two seconds), and makes micro adjustments to the gaps between markers and sound. This ensures that cheap CD players don't miss off the start or end of any track.

To give you an idea of how simple assembling and burning an audio CD from a Montage can be, I selected the File View, dragged a selection of completed song files into the Tracks window (the Magnetic Bounds snapping makes positioning each file adjacent to the previous one easy), switched to the CD View and then clicked on the CD Wizard. From creating a New Montage to pressing the CD Write button took just 30 seconds. However, even more impressive is the fact that any real-time effects you add to your Audio Montage will also be rendered onto the CD.

Meters View: provides extremely comprehensive visual feedback of the final signal being sent to your soundcard. There are two main display options, Level and Spectrum. In the Level section both peak-reading and RMS (VU) meters are provided for each stereo channel, along with a variety of scaling options, such as '–24 to +3dB' or '-60dB to 0dB'. The maximum peak and loudness values are also displayed to the right of these meters, as well as the number of successive 'Clips' -- two or three successive samples at maximum digital level may be acceptable, but any more indicate digital clipping.

To permit rapid changes, five preset meter setups are provided. Not only can you specify the number of dBs displayed by the meters, but also their ballistics (peak hold time and release rate for the peak meter, and resolution and range inertia for the VU meter). An optional stereo phase meter is also provided, to display mono and stereo information in the familiar format: mono signals appear as a vertical line, and out-of-phase stereo signals tend towards a horizontal line. You can also switch to the spectrum meter shown on page 102, which is a 60-band real-time spectrum analyser, with frequency displayed over the full 20Hz to half-sample-rate range, and level from 0dB to –36dB (a useful compromise for most material). Instantaneous levels are displayed for each frequency band, with slowly decaying peak values above them. Both level and spectrum displays can be resized by dragging the dividing line between the upper and lower panes of the Montage window.

Rarely have I seen such comprehensive yet easy-to-use metering in any application -- if only Cubase VST had such options for its inputs and master output!

History View: lets you backtrack through the unlimited Undo/Redo operations.

Snapshots View: useful for capturing different Views and zoom levels and returning to them later.

Notes View: simply a place to type in any amount of text, to be saved with your Montage as a memo.

Summary

If you want a professional WAV-file editor for the PC, there have traditionally been three main contenders: Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge (last reviewed in the March 1997 issue of SOS), Syntrillium's Cool Edit Pro (reviewed June 1998), and Wavelab. Sound Forge is still restricted to 16-bit mono or stereo files, and, given the number of low-cost 24-bit soundcards pouring onto the market, is now sadly outgunned by its c

  System Requirements  
  Setting the right DAT recording level: SOS January 1995. Noise and how to avoid it: SOS May 1995. A Concise Guide to Compression & Limiting: SOS April 1996. The Mysteries of Metering: SOS May 1996.Minimising Mixer and Effects Noise: SOS July 1996.  
ompetitors (although the associated CD Architect CD-burning package is very good). Cool Edit Pro has 64-track capability, with vector automation, but no CD burning. By contrast, Wavelab 3.0 now has enough facilities to act as a stand-alone multitrack hard disk recorder, as well as a stereo WAV editor and CD-mastering package. The addition of sync to MTC also lets you lock it to a MIDI sequencer. Wavelab could also be compared to Vegas Pro for multitrack use, but when you remember that Vegas has no internal wave editor or CD-burning facilities, but is priced identically, Wavelab emerges as the all-round winner.

Wavelab's writer Philippe Goutier takes pains to point out that the program is not a full-fledged multitrack audio recording system, but I suspect that this is partly to draw a distinction between it and its stablemate, Cubase VST. You can't currently access multiple soundcards with Wavelab, but there are no other obvious limitations. Indeed, some companies might have launched the Audio Montage window as a complete product in its own right. In short, Wavelab 3.0 emerges as the most comprehensive all-in-one multitrack recording, editing, arranging, and CD-burning application I have ever reviewed. Highly recommended.

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