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Emagic Audiowerk2

Emagic Audiowerk2

Emagic's new baby is a bargain cross‑platform hardware and software bundle which includes a useful new CD‑mastering package for Mac users. Paul White finds out whether they've delivered the goods.

I had to do a double take when I saw the price of Emagic's Audiowerk2 Production Kit, because it comprises a soundcard with both analogue and digital I/O, a version of Emagic's Logic MIDI + Audio sequencer, a CD‑mastering program providing PQ encoding and CD text support, and a copy of their ZAP lossless audio‑compression software. Where's the catch? There is one if you happen to be working with a PC, because although the Production Kit is available for both Macs and PCs, the CD‑burning software isn't included in the PC version. To help make amends, the bundled PC version of Logic Audio is rather more elaborate than the Mac version (which is effectively Logic Micro), being closer in specification to Logic Audio Silver.

The Package

Mac owners buying the Production Kit get Emagic's new Waveburner CD‑mastering software.Mac owners buying the Production Kit get Emagic's new Waveburner CD‑mastering software.

Logic has been pretty well covered in its various guises in these pages, and a review of version 4.0 is due in the near future, so I don't intend to dwell on the Logic component of the Production Kit in this review. Suffice it to say that the Mac version in the package offers 12 audio tracks with reverb and delay DSP effects and 3‑band EQ. External sync is only possible via MIDI Clock, but you still get Logic's high‑resolution timing and an adaptive mixer for both audio and MIDI tracks. All the drop‑down menus look as though they've been thoroughly shaken to rid them of unnecessary features, but there isn't much you can't do even with this entry‑level version of the program. There will be some latency when monitoring through the computer during recording and, as ever, the longer the buffer size you set up, the longer the latency. However, trying to work with too small a buffer size in an attempt to reduce latency can lead to glitches in the audio, though there's a monitoring speed setting you can adjust too. My own preference is to forgo the luxury of monitoring via software effects and use a conventional mixer to monitor the input being recorded. After all, any audible latency is unacceptable for musical applications.

PC users do rather well on the sequencing front, their version offering up to 16 tracks of audio and the ability to use DirectX plug‑ins, as well as pretty much all the advanced features found in Logic Audio Silver, including its fancy sync options.

ZAP, Emagic's audio file compression utility, was covered in SOS when it first appeared on the market (see the February 1997 issue). Though it ran a little slow on some of the computers around at that time, it performs much more quickly on newer Power Mac machines and can now handle 24‑bit as well as 16‑bit files (See the ZAP box for more details.)

The Audiowerk2 card forms the heart of the Production Kit, and also functions as the 'dongle' or copy protection key for the software, so there's no worry about key‑disk installs or external dongles. Compatible with both Mac and PC computers, AW2 is a 7‑inch PCI card, and unlike the existing Audiowerk8 card (reviewed in SOS July 1997) has analogue and digital outputs that can be independently addressed from Logic Audio. An ASIO driver is included for compatibility with other ASIO‑compliant software, though ASIO is not required to use the included software.

Audiowerk2's hardware is based on similar technology to the Audiowerk8, though there are only two analogue ins and outs alongside the digital S/PDIF I/O. Single‑bit, 128x oversampling bitstream converters are used (equivalent to 18‑bit linear converters), and the analogue I/O works at a nominal ‑10dBV operating level. A dynamic range of 92dB is claimed, with a frequency response flat within +/‑0.5dB from 20Hz to 20kHz. The card's sample rate is fixed at 44.1kHz, the rate required for CD production, so what you actually get here is good old‑fashioned 16‑bit, 44.1kHz performance — and I have to say it sounds absolutely fine. Those with 48kHz‑only DAT machines (or other digital sources) needn't worry, though, as the included Waveburner software includes real‑time sample‑rate conversion. When using Waveburner it's even possible to open 24‑bit files sampled at 48kHz and the software will convert both the sample rate and the bit depth, though it's not clear whether this is done by simple truncation or by a dithering algorithm.

Before we leave the subject of audio files, Mac owners can use Waveburner to open files created in other programs, providing they're in SDII (both interleaved and split) or AIFF format. SDII regions can also be imported.

Waveburner In Detail

Crossfades, level changes and the like are carried out in Waveburner's Wave window.Crossfades, level changes and the like are carried out in Waveburner's Wave window.

As Waveburner is a new program and the only part of the Production Kit not already examined to somextent in SOS, much of this review will focus on it. For some it will be the most important aspect of the Production Kit bundle.

Waveburner is a non‑destructive stereo file editor designed for arranging individual songs into the running order required to produce a finished album, complete with gaps, level changes and crossfades. It also provides a simple way to edit track start IDs, after which the audio may be recorded onto CD‑R directly from Waveburner, using one of a wide range of available CD‑ROM writers. It's important to note that Waveburner is not a wave‑editing package — it deals specifically with regions of audio that don't need de‑clicking, de‑noising, compressing, or processing in any way (aside from changes in level). Material can instead be edited at wave level within Logic Audio or other compatible program, then opened in Waveburner. As mentioned earlier, SDII regions can be opened in Waveburner, and albums may be compiled from multiple audio files when necessary. There's no provision to use VST plug‑ins in Waveburner, which I would have liked.

Audio is recorded into Waveburner in either the analogue or digital domain, though digital is, of course, preferable. There's no need to remember to set external sync for digital recording, and sample rates other than 44.1kHz are automatically converted as you record. If all the audio material for the album is loaded from a single DAT tape in one go, it initially appears as a single region.

The Wave Window

Waveburner offers a straightforward means of compiling a CD master.Waveburner offers a straightforward means of compiling a CD master.

Most of the hard work is done in the Wave window, where four stereo audio waveforms are on display. The top one shows the audio file as it will eventually play back, while the lowest one provides an overview of the entire project, complete with any assembly editing or crossfading that may have been done. The middle two windows show the material being worked on, at a range of zoom resolutions. There's a reason for the presence of the middle two wave windows: whenever you split a file to create new regions, alternate regions appear on first the upper, then the lower of these windows. Regions may be dragged so that tracks overlap, and arranging the screens in this way enables both overlapping portions to remain visible. This is immensely useful when creating crossfades between tracks.

The card's sample rate is fixed at 44.1kHz, the rate required for CD production, so what you actually get here is good old‑fashioned 16‑bit, 44.1kHz performance.

Clicking the mouse while holding down the Command key brings up a pair of scissors for dividing existing regions. As soon as a new region is created it automatically sprouts handles for length, level and fade adjustment. The software also places a track‑start marker at the start of each new region, unless there's a crossfade, in which case it places the marker mid‑fade. If you disagree with the marker position you can drag it to a new location; redundant markers can also be dragged to a trash‑can icon.

Essentially, you can cut up material, arrange it in any way you want, truncate where necessary, and creatfades. Everything is very simple — for example, changing a crossfade curve shape is just a matter of dragging the curve with the mouse — and though the facilities available are pretty basic, most of the time they're exactly what you want when you come to turn your tape of DAT masters into a CD‑R album.

No definitive list of supported CD‑R writers is provided, but the manual claims that most popular models supporting disc‑at‑once mode will work — my obscure TEAC drive was recognised straight away and worked flawlessly. Waveburner writes in disc‑at‑once mode to avoid glitches between songs, and also includes a test mode so you can check out the burning procedure without risking a disc.

Playlist & Indexing

Once audio regions have been created they may be viewed in a playlist, and their timings may be changed if necessary. However, the Wave window is so quick and easy to use that the playlist is almost redundant. For example, as you're adjusting a fade in the Wave window, the fade time is shown on screen. Similarly, when you move a region to change the gap length, the precise gap length is displayed. What's more, all the tracks ahead of the one you're working on move up if you change a gap length, so you don't have to worry about disturbing edits you sorted out earlier. Waveburner makes it easy to audition the transitions between songs, for the purposes of checking that pauses and relative levels are satisfactory, after which you can either opt to burn directly to CD‑R or create a disk image first. The latter may be the best bet if your computer or hard drive is on the slow side, but you can usually burn directly from the playlist without problems.

Having track start and end IDs that will be translated into Red Book PQ codes is all you'll need for most of the time, but Waveburner also allows indexes to be placed within tracks, for those CD players that can recognise them. The software then goes further, by providing simple entry for ISRC codes and embedded text information, for the benefit of those CD players that support CD Text. Here you can type in the album title, track titles, composer credits, and so on. Tracks may also have copy‑protect flags set, and you can even create CDs with pre‑emphasis, though few people use pre‑emphasis these days.

Using Waveburner

From the previous description, you might think I've over‑simplified Waveburner, and to some extent I have, as there are a few minor functions and short‑cuts I haven't covered, but overall the program really is as straightforward as it appears. Installation of the whole Production Kit took me around 10 minutes and involved plugging the card into its slot, clicking Install on the enclosed CD‑ROM, then getting down to work. After that, I booted up the program, recorded some audio via the digital input, and set about editing a mini‑album of one‑minute tracks, complete with crossfades, fade‑outs, gaps and level changes. The manual for Waveburner, which comes as a PDF file, is only 64 pages long, and though it could be better in some areas, it provides more than enough clues to get the job done. A paper manual coms with the AW2 card, but it also relates to the AW8 card so it can be confusing in places. It also contains a few contradictions and errors, but nothing to prevent you getting up and running.

The Red Book CD spec insists on a pause of at least two seconds before the first track, but the manual doesn't quite lead you by the nose when it comes to explaining exactly what that means. When I'd finished compiling my album I tried to burn a CD, and got a message reminding me that there should be a two‑second gap at the start. Of course, in any reasonable world there would be a button in the dialogue box labelled 'SO SORT IT OUT THEN!', but in fact you have to do it yourself. I reckon that if the software is clever enough to notice you've forgotten the gap, it ought to be clever enough to put one in for you!

Within a couple of hours of opening the box, I was burning my first CD.

Dragging fades around can be a little slow when longer fades are involved, as the computer is permanently doing sums and creating little temporary files, but it doesn't really hold you up — it just feels as though you're dragging the cursor through jam for a few seconds! I also found I was zooming the Wave window size quite often, as you can't drag the fade handles off the edge of the screen and have the screen scroll to accommodate your actions, as some editor programs do. However, that's pretty much it for gripes, and because just about everything apart from normalisation is non‑destructive, the program works quite quickly.

Within a couple of hours of opening the box, I was burning my first CD. Admittedly, it was only eight minutes long, with six short tracks on it, but Waveburner delivered the goods in a very slick and professional way and actually felt like a kind of stripped‑down Pro Tools from the handling point of view. I was particularly impressed by the on‑screen readout of fade and gap times when editing these parameters, and the ability to drag track start IDs around with the mouse is wonderful. I've been requesting something like this for ages.


Using a good amplifier and a pair of ATC monitors, I couldn't hear any difference between material fed in via the Audiowerk2's digital input and the same material burnt onto CD. Neither could I hear any significant difference in quality between a source CD and a hard disk copy played back via the card's analogue outs.

To turn to the software provided in the Production Kit, Waveburner is a brilliantly simple CD‑burning package providing all the tools needed for compiling individual tracks into a master. It isn't an editor as such, but if Emagic wanted to make it into one, taking the best features of Digidesign's Sound Designer II and combining them with Waveburner and the ability to use VST plug‑ins, they'd have a world beater.

For sequencing, the Micro Logic thrown in for Mac users is a good introduction to the bigger Logic programs that doesn't involve too many compromises. PC users do even better on the sequencer front, though they lose out on Waveburner altogether — but then there are rather more budget CD‑burning packages for the PC than there are for the Mac.

Waveburner delivered the goods in a very slick and professional way.

ZAP is a useful program for shrinking audio files prior to archiving, but with CD‑Rs and large hard drives being so cheap it's perhaps not the essential that it once was. Still, it certainly has its uses and is very nice to have included in this package at such a low cost.

As you may have gathered from this review, the combination of Waveburner and the Audiowerk2 card is what excites me most, as the software is rather more friendly than the widely used Jam and Masterlist CD for assembling and burning CD albums. When you consider that you also get a serious MIDI + Audio sequencer and a lossless audio packer thrown in for a combined price of under £200, you can't help but conclude that the Audiowerk2 Production Kit is a good deal. I'm having one!


Unlike aggressive data‑compression systems such as MPEG, ZAP is completely lossless, in that the decompressed file is bit‑for‑bit the same as the original. It could be seen as the audio equivalent of computer programs like Stuffit or WinZip, though it is optimised for use with audio. It's also as simple to use as general‑purpose file stuffers. The amount of space‑saving varies depending on the audio content of the file, but is usually around 50 percent. Note that it's possible to determine what file type will be created when a ZAP archive is unpacked (SDII, AIFF or WAV), and also to create self‑unpacking archives that can be opened by someone who doesn't own the program. This latter feature is most useful for sending high‑quality audio files over the Internet.


  • Unbelievably low price.
  • Easy‑to‑use CD burning for Mac users.
  • Good audio quality.
  • High‑quality support software.


  • PC users lose out on Waveburner.
  • Most of the manuals are on disk rather than in paper form.


This is a very attractive card/software bundle that will appeal to those seeking a cheap way into audio sequencing, as well as to Mac users looking for a low‑cost CD‑mastering system.