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Minnetonka AudioTools AWE

Batch Processing Utility [Mac OSX]
By Mike Thornton

Need to convert files en masse into different formats or sample rates, or apply the same plug–in settings to hundreds of files at once? Minnetonka have developed a utility that could take the legwork out of the job.

Minnetonka AudioTools AWEAudioTools Audio Workflow Engine (AWE) from Minnetonka Software is described as a batch conversion tool for audio files. However, it does a whole load more than simply converting files from one audio format into another: AWE can do editing, converting, transcoding, encoding, and applying plug–ins. Users specify a set of input files, configure a chain of processors, set parameters for each processor and run the job. All files are automatically processed and placed in the specified output location. Minnetonka claim that “AWE is the industry’s first fully automated processing tool for audio assets”, and that it has been rigorously tested by “the industry’s best and brightest”. It’s currently Mac–only, but a Windows version is expected sometime in the middle of this year.

Four Steps To Heaven

The four basic steps outlined above each have their own tabs within the AWE interface. Step one is to select the sound files you want to process. You can select sound files by double–clicking within, or dragging them out of, the browser on the left of the window; alternatively, drag them from Mac OS X Finder windows or the desktop. It’s easy to audition files using the Transport function in the bottom right–hand corner of the window. I suspect that this application has been written in Java, but it connects to Mac OS at Unix level, so to find connected drives you have to go to the bottom of the browser list and open the Volumes folder; it also displays all the files and folders that Mac OS keeps hidden away. I changed one of my drives while AWE was open and I found that the file browser didn’t automatically update. It was necessary to go into the View menu and select the Refresh option to get the file browser to acknowledge the changes.

VST plug–ins can be used within AWE to process batches of files.VST plug–ins can be used within AWE to process batches of files.The Processing tab is where you select the operations that will be performed on the sound files. To do this, you select the desired processors from the list and drag them to the Processing Chain. The interface for each processor will appear when the processor is selected, so you can adjust the processor parameters. I found that some, like Izotope’s Ozone 3, didn’t fit in the window, so I couldn’t get to the section selector buttons, but when I dragged it slightly, AWE turned it into a floating window and I could then get at all the controls in the Ozone 3 window.

AWE supports its own standard set of processors, any third–party VST plug–ins that are installed on your system (though not Audio Units plug–ins), and optional Minnetonka processors such as their Dolby Digital Processor and Master Bundle. The latter consists of a number of Izotope plug–ins supplied under licence.

If you click on the Output File Format button, another window opens, from which you can set the output file format. I was originally supplied with version 1.2, and was disappointed to find that there were only two output file formats available: WAV and AIFF. I would have expected at least MP3, as well as a range of other compressed formats. Since then, Minnetonka have released v1.3, which does include MP3 export options, along with the much–requested support for Sound Designer II files. However, although sample rates from 8kHz to 192kHz are supported, there are still no 12– or 8–bit output options. The lowest bit depth on offer is 16–bit, an omission which means that AWE may not be a complete ‘one-stop shop’ for batch file processing for some applications.

Location, Location, Location

Compared to rival products, AWE supports a  rather limited range of file types and bit depths, but sports good–quality sample–rate conversion.Compared to rival products, AWE supports a rather limited range of file types and bit depths, but sports good–quality sample–rate conversion.The next step is to specify the output filenames and location. AWE can put all the output files into a single folder, or replicate the folder structure in which the original files were contained. The File Name Modifiers section is surprisingly powerful, allowing you to include date, time, job name and the text of your choice. You can also use search and replace to modify any text in the original filenames. The results are previewed in the Output Structure section of the window. The only modification I would make here is that I would prefer a cursor to appear when clicking in one of the text boxes, to let the user know that AWE is ready to accept text input.

From this tab, you hit the Submit button. You are asked to give the job a name, and AWE then saves the details of the job in the chosen location and puts the job into the Queue to begin processing. The Job Progress and Job Status indicators keep you informed of the progress of your job as it is being processed. You can queue up as many jobs as you want, and AWE will process them in order, but you need to remember to hit New Job from the File menu. There are Job Queue control buttons to the left, and you can also review the Log for a job to verify that it has completed and processes all files without error.

In Use

I tried using AudioTools AWE on four different jobs. The first was to process a range of backing tracks using Ozone 3, before adding fades in and out. This AWE did well, although it seemed to be slower than I would have expected.

You can choose whether all your processed files should end up in the same folder, or whether you’d rather preserve their original folder structure, and the File Name Modifiers section provides extensive control over naming. You can choose whether all your processed files should end up in the same folder, or whether you’d rather preserve their original folder structure, and the File Name Modifiers section provides extensive control over naming. Next, I tried to create an interleaved surround–format file from a set of individual mono files with suffixes such as ‘.L’, ‘.R’ and so on. It took me a little while to work out how to do this. There is an Auto–Load option in the Preferences, which is designed to load the rest of the multi–channel files when you drop an ‘.L’ file onto the Input Structure, but that on its own didn’t seem to do it. It was only after I’d studied the full manual further that I discovered the option to create a New Channel Group. This puts up placeholders in the Input Structure window, and then when I dragged the ‘.L’ file, sure enough, it sensed and loaded the others.

There is an Uninterleave feature which does the reverse, but for some reason it does not break the mono files out with their appropriate letter extensions (‘.L’, ‘.R’, ‘.C’ and so on), using numbers instead. That isn’t insoluble for the odd file here and there, but to have to go through and re–label the file names would be a major pain on a large project.

Next I tried the MP3 export. This worked as expected, with an excellent range of options, but again seemed slower to process than I would have expected.

Finally, I tried the sample–rate conversion, using some solo piano recordings which would hopefully show up any weaknesses, and was very impressed with the results. The sales literature refers to AWE’s “high–resolution sample–rate conversion”, and my tests would bear this claim out, even on the lowest–quality ‘Faster’ setting.

Overall, this is a versatile batch–conversion application that leaves very few stones unturned. The latest version 1.3 adds very welcome support for creating MP3 files, although the manual does not yet cover this feature, so you are left to work out the correct settings to use. The addition of SDII support is welcome, too, but competitors such as Audio Ease’s BarbaBatch support a much wider range of file formats, so the lack of this sort of broad format support dents Minnetonka’s claim to have created a universal solution. It is also unfortunate that the manual hasn’t kept pace with the developments.

Other than that, though, AudioTools AWE is only let down by some issues to do with multi–channel support. With the ability to use third–party plug–ins and the comprehensive re-naming structure, it’s an excellent batch-processing tool for most purposes.

The obvious alternative to AudioTools AWE is BarbaBatch from Audio Ease (www.audioease.com/Pages/BarbaBatch4/BarbaBatch4.html), which is similarly priced, and likewise available only for Mac OS. However, the two applications do differ: BarbaBatch supports a much wider range of sample rates and file formats, including lots of obscure telephony formats, but doesn’t allow you to apply plug–ins or surround encoders to the audio.

See It In Action

If AWE sounds as though it might be useful to you, check out the excellent YouTube video showing the basics of how it works: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fanz77XXKYI.

Hot Folders

An AWE job can be configured to process audio files as they appear in a Hot Folder, rather than the user having to add files to the job manually. To run a Hot Folder job, you configure the AWE processing chain and any output options as usual, and on the Input tab you select the Hot Folder button in the right–hand corner. This button enables you to select a folder AWE is to use as the Hot Folder. Once the job is submitted, AWE will process any file that appears in the Hot Folder. If no new files exist, AWE will wait until one shows up.

Pros

  • Good support for third–party plug–ins.
  • Powerful file re-naming options.
  • Excellent sample–rate conversion.

Cons

  • Incomplete support for interleaving and un–interleaving multi–channel files.
  • Limited file-format support.
  • Manual not keeping up with developments.

Summary

AWE is a powerful batch conversion package with a full range of features, let down a little by the limited range of supported file formats and the handling of multi–channel files.

information

£239; Master Bundle £179. Prices include VAT.

Et Cetera +44 (0)1706 285650.

Minnetonka +49 2162 106 2622.

www.etcetera.co.uk

www.minnetonkaaudio.com

Published March 2008